Update 1/28/20. I've been investigating supplements since the 1990s. I've seen supplements come and go. Nicotinamide riboside (better known Tru Niagen) is an anti-aging supplement you've heard about. Popular supplements that contain this compound include Tru Niagen and Elysium Basis. You've heard it can reverse aging, help dementia, concussions, keep skin looking young and improve your workouts. I've read the magazine articles and studies and I've come to a conclusion: I don't believe it. But why? The science says it works, right? Does it? Here are 5 things the ads don't tell us.
Other NR Reviews
Here are other relevant reviews worth looking at:
- Nicotinamide Riboside Review of Research
- Elysium Basis Review
- My 30 Day Niagen Experiment
- NMN Review
What Is Nicotinamide Riboside
It's a molecule derived from the vitamin niacin, also known as:
- vitamin B3
- nicotinic acid
Whatever name you call it, it's a vitamin. Nicotinamide Riboside (NR) is created by combining niacin with the sugar, ribose. The company which makes NR is called ChromaDex. ChromaDex is a publicly-traded company. The
the stock symbol is CDXC.
NR can be found in many supplements. Popular brands include:
The supplement Tru Niagen, is the most popular product. Most companies that use NR in their supplements get it from ChromaDex, the maker of Tru Niagen.
What Does Nicotinamide Riboside Do
NR increases levels of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, better known as NAD and NADH. NAD and NADH are molecules we need to help us make energy. With aging, NAD levels decrease. This can cause problems with how well our mitochondria make energy.
This, in turn, leads to cellular damage. Raising NAD levels – by taking NR supplements – is said to keep cells healthy, which in turn, is said to reverse the aging process and all sorts of other stuff.
For example, nicotinamide riboside supplements are touted to:
- Slow down/reverse aging
- Help dementia / Alzheimer's disease
- Give people more pep/energy
- Protect the mitochondria
- Improve workouts
- Improve muscle growth
- Increase metabolism
- Improve diabetes
- Detoxify the liver
- Prevent hearing loss
The list goes on. But, I have some problems with all this. I've read the studies. Here's what you don't know.
1. Mostly Non-Human Research
When you look at the entire body of evidence for NR supplements you see it's mostly made up of:
- Test tube studies
- Mouse/rat studies
Yes, there are a few human studies out there, but not as many as you think. The human studies show NR can raise NAD levels. That's great – but what else does it do?
Does raising NAD / NADH levels in our cells to mean it helps concussions, slows the aging process or does anything else?
Those who say it does all this are taking a leap of faith. I'm sorry but that is not good science. This is because:
- we do not test tubes
- we are not mice and rats
We are humans. Human research is most important for us. It takes research – on people – to know for sure if NR supplements help any disease.
ChromaDex supports research on nicotinamide riboside. While this is wonderful, in many studies, the researchers either work for ChromaDex or have stock in the company. This potentially opens the door for conflict of interest.
I want to see non-company sponsored research on Niagen. Hey grad students, this would make an excellent Thesis or Dissertation topic for you!
2. No Evidence It Lengthens Telomeres
Telomeres are found at the ends of chromosomes. They help keep DNA healthy. With aging, disease or stress, telomeres shorten. Because of this, some look at telomere shortening as a sign of aging. If nicotinamide riboside really slowed aging, why hasn't anyone tested to see if it slows telomere shortening or reverses it and makes telomeres grow longer again?
Niagen has been around long enough for studies like this to have been performed.
Why aren't they?
This wouldn't be too hard to do: randomly give Niagen (or Niacel since they are the same thing) or a placebo to people for a few months and see if telomeres get longer. Or, do the same study, test for telomerase, the enzyme that lengthens telomeres.
Why haven't these studies been done?
Remember, Niagen is mostly touted to be anti-aging. Failure to study do a Niagen-telomere length makes no sense from a clinical standpoint.
But it might, from a marketing standpoint.
Lack of evidence doesn't necessarily mean NR would not help telomeres. But the omission of research like this is too much to be ignored.
3. Not Proven To Slow Human Aging
This is related to point #1 above. Niagen/Niacel or any other NR supplement has not been proven to slow aging in humans. I understand this would be a difficult thing to prove because since we live so long.
But what about lab animals? No study has yet tried to investigate if nicotinamide riboside helps mice, rats – or even worms live longer. Really? Not even worms? Nope.
Worms don't live long so why hasn't anybody looked at this?
4. No Proven Human Disease Benefits
Several websites tout the potential of nicotinamide riboside supplements at helping Alzheimer's / dementia, Parkinson's, and a bunch of other things. Where is the proof? There are some interesting lab animal research but no study has yet addressed if NR supplements can reduce human diseases.
One study has noted 1000 mg of NR did not improve insulin levels or glucose levels in overweight men
To be fair, I understand why this would be difficult to do disease studies. Supplement companies making disease claims risk the ire of the FDA. Because disease-related research takes time to do, I can overlook this for the moment. Let's see what the future holds.
5. It's Not Tested Against Niacin
For me, this is the biggest deal-breaker. Remember, nicotinamide riboside is based on the vitamin, niacin. There is evidence niacin raises NAD levels. So, if Niacin raises NAD and NR supplements also raise NAD, how do they compare to each other? Is one better than another?
Why hasn't anyone compared niacin to nicotinamide riboside?
One possible reason is niacin/niacinamide is inexpensive and nicotinamide riboside is expensive. Any study showing they worked similarly would torpedo the marketing of Niagen, Niacel, Elysium Basis, and all other NR supplements. It also wouldn't do much for ChromaDex stock price either.
Is Nicotinamide Riboside A Scam?
I'm not prepared to call NR supplements a scam, but the lack of research in the key 5 key areas I summarized above, has my Spidey Sense tingling. To be sure, there are some big names saying the complete. For those who disagree with me, I say prove me wrong. Do the research I'm asking for. Prove to me Niagen is not just an overpriced niacin supplement. I'm very open to being wrong. Hopefully, my words have sparked future research.
Will NAD booster supplements like Niagen NMN and Elysium Basis end up like previously touted fountains of youth like DHEA, gerovital, or resveratrol? Time will tell…