Energy is a hallmark of youth. Kids have a never-ending supply-even young parents have a hard time keeping up, and the older we get, the more scarce it seems to become. So it isn't surprising that energy production on a cellular level is a focal point of antiaging research. And in that world, a new, patented form of vitamin B3 is gaining more and more attention. Called Niagen nicotinamide riboside, or simply Niagen, it boosts energy production and enhances a process that makes cells behave as though they were younger.
If you've been tracking longevity research, you may have heard of sirtuins, enzymes that are thought to have life-extending properties. "If you increase their supply in cells, they make the cells healthier, more robust," says Anthony Sauve, PhD, associate professor of pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and a researcher who has been studying the subject for more than two decades.
Studies of flies, worms, and mice have shown that boosting sirtuins extends life. Although it isn't practical to do similar studies in people because our lifespan is much longer, there's evidence that we can benefit by enhancing sirtuins-and that Niagen can help.
Did You Know?
Vitamin B3 helps convert carbs to energy, improves circulation, and helps control inflammation.
How It Works
Sirtuins are activated by a substance called NAD (short for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), which our bodies make from food. However, says Sauve, "Studies have shown that people, as they get older and older, lose NAD, and the typical diet simply doesn't get them the NAD that they had when they were young." Consequently, the process of energy production becomes less efficient.
Studies of cells, animals, and people have found that Niagen effectively increases levels of NAD, and that the supplement is safe. "If you make more NAD, you're causing the sirtuin enzymes to accelerate their activities," says Sauve. "It gives a boost to those enzymes to make them work better."
Research Highlights on Niagen
In animal studies, mice that were fed a high-fat diet gained 60 percent less weight with Niagen compared to mice that didn't receive the supplement, although both groups ate the same amount of food. The supplemented mice also had healthier levels of cholesterol and blood sugar, better endurance, and stronger muscles. In other animal studies, Niagen has been shown to protect against hearing loss from loud noise, reduce Alzheimer's brain plaques, improve the function of a diseased heart, and reverse fatty liver disease.
A number of human studies are now underway. Research at the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark, is looking at Niagen's effects on obese men. At the University of Colorado Boulder, a study is testing the supplement's impact on physical function and metabolism in healthy, middle-aged and older adults. Another study is tracking the effects of Niagen on resting metabolic rate and other health markers among middle-aged adults.
The Bottom Line
"There's evidence now, in humans, that exercise and low-calorie diets can stimulate NAD formation," says Sauve. When it comes to Niagen, he says, "Something that can produce similar kinds of effects is very, very exciting."
Different Forms of Vitamin B3
Niagen is a patented form of nicotinamide riboside, a type of vitamin B3 most often found as a single ingredient in supplements. It may be added to nutrition bars and other products in the future. Trace amounts of nicotinamide riboside are naturally present in milk, some beers, and other foods, but quantities are too small to be therapeutic. A human study found that a single 100-mg dose of Niagen effectively elevated levels of NAD.
Along with other B vitamins, B3 helps convert carbohydrates into energy, improves circulation, helps control inflammation, and is used to make hormones. Niagen and other forms of B3 work in different ways, and one does not replace another. Here's a rundown of the most common forms of vitamin B3 found in supplements:
This sometimes has the unpleasant side effect of flushing. In high doses, niacin increases levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, and can relieve menstrual cramps. Some multivitamins, B-complex products, and energy formulas contain this form. Extended-release formulas may help diminish niacin's flushing effect.
Does not cause flushing and does not have the same cholesterol-related benefits as niacin. Niacinamide is a common form of vitamin B3 found in multivitamins, B-complex formulas, and energy-enhancing products.
Used to lower cholesterol, this form is considered to be nonflushing, but has not been as widely studied as niacin. Studies have found that it can improve intermittent claudication and impaired blood flow to extremities that causes pain in the legs during exercise. Inositol hexaniacinate isn't typically found in multivitamins but is sold as a single-ingredient supplement, in some B-complex products, and in formulas for heart health and menstrual cramps.
Niagen enhances a biochemical process that makes cells behave as though they were younger.
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