If you've ever wished that the Fountain of Youth was real, listen up: Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) is a form of vitamin B3, or niacin, and a powerful antioxidant that regulates the genes that accelerate aging.
By taking nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) supplements, some researchers believe you may be able to raise your NAD+ levels and potentially turn back the clock — perhaps by decades.
Sounds promising, right? But before you stock up on NMN supplements, get the lowdown on their purported benefits, along with potential side effects and one important caveat to keep in mind.
Nicotinamide, which is sometimes called niacinamide, is a coenzyme of vitamin B3 (read: it helps B3 do its job) and is part of every living cell in the body. It is a precursor to NAD+, which is essential to a healthy body and required to help the neurological system, brain and other internal organs function at optimal efficiency. Nicotinamide becomes NAD+ through a series of chemical transformations.
Melissa Caiyem, a Colorado Springs-based health coach pursuing a PhD in natural medicine, explains that vitamin B3 can be found in both animal-based and plant-based foods, including salmon, beef, chicken, brown rice, peanuts, sunflower seeds and lentils.
Read more: 21 Anti-aging Foods
NAD+ and Aging
As you get older, NAD+ levels in your body decline. This makes it harder for your cells to repair, putting you at risk for physical and mental decline.
In addition to aging, your NAD+ stores can decrease due to stress, poor diet, certain medications, lack of sleep and excessive alcohol use. So, how to restore those levels once they've declined?
"The amount of NMN required to increase NAD+ in a human is far beyond the amount found in dietary sources," Caiyem says. You need hundreds of milligrams to raise NAD+ levels, but various foods have concentrations of less than 1 milligram per kilogram. So, she says, "to achieve the desired effects, one would have to supplement."
Potential Benefits of NMN Supplements
NMN supplements offer the hope of stimulating an increase in your NAD+ levels, since nicotinamide mononucleotide becomes NAD+ after going through a series of natural chemical transformations in the body. The supplements contain a high dose of NMN — an amount you could never get through food alone.
NMN supplements have the potential to fight aging, ward off chronic disease and heighten your energy levels. Another benefit promised by NMN supplements is improving the function of the mitochondria, which are your cells' energy powerhouses. Decaying mitochondria are thought to contribute to the decline of your physical and mental health as you age.
By taking NMN supplements, you may also reap benefits that include:
- Boosted cognition
- Healthier liver and metabolism
- Longer lifespan
- Improved blood flow and nutrient delivery to cells
- Enhanced endurance
NMN may counter some of the effects of aging, including weight gain, insulin sensitivity and low energy. It may also improve eye health and prevent age-associated changes in the organs. In studies, NMN shows potential in boosting NAD+ production to help with diabetes and Parkinson's disease.
Research published in Cell Metabolism in December 2016 found that supplementation with NMN in wild mice readily caused the synthesis of NAD+ to provide the above-mentioned benefits. In other words, NMN mitigated the age-associated physiological decline in mice.
Before you say "sign me up" for NMN supplements, keep in mind that all of these impressive healing and anti-aging benefits are only theoretical when it comes to humans.
Research has proven NMN to be effective in animals. But, as Caiyem points out, "NMN has zero studies on humans to date." It does appear to be well tolerated in mice and causes no side effects. But mice have different metabolisms than humans. And human lifestyle factors, including stresses and diet, vary greatly from that of a mouse in a cage.
NMN supplementation in mouse studies is also offered as an injection — but human supplements are offered orally. The different types of administration could affect NMN availability and effect.
To sum it up: NMN seems promising based on the limited research out there, but there are currently no published trials or research to prove that the supplement does anything to effectively improve NAD+ levels in humans.
Also, keep in mind that, according to the Institute of Medicine, the upper limit for consumption of all niacin products — including forms of nicotinamide — is 35 milligrams per day.
Read more: What to Do if You Have a Niacin Reaction
Choosing a Supplement
Having little to no substantial research supporting the benefits of NMN supplements has not stopped manufacturers from creating a robust market for these products.
When considering supplements, though, always be aware that they do not undergo the same rigorous scrutiny as do pharmaceuticals. Supplements aren't under any major regulation from the Food and Drug Administration, which means manufacturers can make broad claims on their labels that aren't always proven.
If you do want to jump on the bandwagon and try NMN to boost your health, consult with your doctor or another nutrition expert for recommendations on credible brands and the right dose for your personal needs and goals.
When searching for a quality supplement, here are a few things to look for:
- Transparency: The product lists all ingredients where you can easily find them, like on the label. Ideally, the supplement should have a minimal ingredient list, which ensures you're getting more of the nutrient you want and less filler.
- Third-party tested: Although not required, supplement companies can choose to have their products quality tested by a third party, such as NSF International or ConsumerLab.com. Look for third-party certifications on the product label or website.
- GMP: The FDA lays out Good Manufacturing Practices for supplement developers, which encourage them to substantiate the identity, purity, quality, strength and composition of their ingredients. Look for a sign on the product label or website that indicates the company follows these practices.
The Bottom Line
A research review in the January 2019 Biomolecules journal concluded that NMN shows potential but lacks the clinical and toxicological data needed for wide recommendation. Plus, NMN is expensive to manufacture, making it expensive for you, the consumer.
NMN is promising as a therapeutic treatment for Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes as well as for many of the maladies of aging. But more research is needed to ensure it is both safe and truly effective in humans.
Is This an Emergency?
- Scientific American: Beyond Resveratrol: The Anti-Aging NAD Fad
- Kaiser Health News: A ‘Fountain Of Youth’ Pill? Sure, If You’re A Mouse.
- Cell Metabolism: Long-Term Administration of Nicotinamide Mononucleotide Mitigates Age-Associated Physiological Decline in Mice
- Biomolecules: Nicotinamide Mononucleotide: Exploration of Diverse Therapeutic Applications of a Potential Molecule
- Environmental Working Group: How Much is Too Much?
- Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University: "Niacin"
- Nature Metabolism: "Slc12a8 is a nicotinamide mononucleotide transporter"