Charles Brenner, MD, the chair of the Department of Diabetes & Cancer Metabolism at the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope National Medical Center. Disclosure: He is a scientific advisor for a company that sells an NR supplement.
Vitamin B3 isn’t a single substance: It’s a family of three vitamers (similar but not identical forms of a vitamin), including nicotinamide, niacin, and nicotinamide riboside (NR).
That last one is creating a buzz in the healthy-aging research community. Studies suggest that supplemental NR may slow cellular aging, improve metabolism, and reduce inflammation. To understand what this means in real life, Bottom Line Health spoke with Charles Brenner, MD, who discovered NR.
BLH: What role does NR play in healthy aging?
Dr. Brenner: NR plays a role in promoting healthy aging by restoring levels of a coenzyme called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD).
NAD is the central catalyst of our metabolism, the process that allows us to convert everything we eat into everything we are and do. As we age, a variety of stressors can reduce our NAD levels, including excessive sunlight (which damages our DNA), oxidative stress, overeating, sleep deprivation, alcohol consumption, working night shift, traveling across time zones, and not exercising enough. Inflammation, infections, and diseases, such as heart failure and neurodegeneration, lower NAD levels, too.
In my research, I found that by increasing levels of NR through oral supplementation, one can safely maintain youthful levels of NAD, which is a vital component in healthy aging.
I’m excited by what we have seen in animal studies. For example, one study showed that giving NR to overfed mice improved glycemic control, protected against fatty liver, and prevented the development of diabetic and chemotherapeutic neuropathy. In another study, we found that it provided protection against heart failure and neurodegeneration. It provides more benefits to rodents who are obese, have heart failure, or neurodegeneration than it does for healthy rodents.
High NAD status isn’t a panacea, but if we see NAD under attack in a disease, such as we do in heart failure or neurodegeneration, there’s a good chance that boosting it will provide protection from the underlying insult.
When it comes to aging, boosting NAD through NR supplementation is just one strategy to age well. It’s also important to maintaining an active lifestyle, eat and sleep well, and maintain mental activity and social connectedness.
BLH: What benefits have you seen in human studies?
Dr. Brenner: In small human clinical trials, NR supplementation is associated with quicker recovery from COVID-19, improved cerebral blood flow in people with Parkinson’s disease, and improved body composition in women. In a trial in which it was taken along with three other supplements, it also showed anti-inflammatory activity. It looks like it may help people with moderately high blood pressure and fatty liver disease. But more research is needed before we can make any health claims.
Anecdotally, people who take it notice that their fingernails and hair grow faster. Quite a lot of people notice that their recovery from strenuous workouts is easier and that their repair from cuts and scrapes is faster. Many people say it gives them more energy, but that hasn’t been demonstrated in a placebo-controlled trial.