Update 1/20/23. 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, and 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
- Does Nicotinamide Riboside Cause Cancer (video 1)
- Nicotinamide riboside cancer update (video 2)
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 with 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. 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 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 to 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!
Video: Nicotinamide Riboside: Human proof
Watch this video on my Youtube channel to see the proof for yourself.
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 slowed aging, why hasn't anyone tested to see if it slowed telomere shortening or reversed it and made telomeres grow longer?
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 perform a Niagen-telomere length study makes no sense from a clinical standpoint.
But it might, from a marketing standpoint.
A 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 human aging. I understand this would be difficult to prove because 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 to help Alzheimer's / dementia, Parkinson's, and many other things. Where is the proof? There is 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…
Hi Joe, sorry, I came late to this article. You raise some interesting issues, but some seem to be red herrings. Notably, as far as I’m aware, nobody is suggesting niagen preserves telomeres. Aging has a number of components. Telomere shortening and mitochondrial decline are two. They’re very likely to be independent effects (why would more available energy from mitochondria necessarily enhance telomere repair?). For healthy aging, we need to fix both, but it’s very likely they require completely separate remedies.
So overall, I’m not as sceptical as you seem to be about nicotinamide riboside, at least for older people. The pathways by which niacin in the diet gets converted to NAD in mitochondria are well studied, they all involve nicotamide riboside as a step anyway. It’s also well established that the efficiency of the processes converting niacin to nicotinamide riboside decline with age. So no, niacin and nicotinamide riboside are not equivalent, except perhaps in the young.
However one straw in the wind that you might like to investigate is this study: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/record/NCT03562468. Apparently it was completed in July 2019. One would have thought that, if the results were positive, it would have been trumpeted to the skies. So where are they??? One thought: 40 participants is pretty under-powered, it would only show up substantial effects. Perhaps the results were indistinguishable from null. Which would itself be underwhelming.
My own experience: I’ve been taking niacin supplements for around fifty years, only started taking NR/NMN about five years ago. The additional effects were substantial in terms of muscular strength and endurance, but negligible in other areas (notably arthritis, for example). That’s OK. I’m not going to ditch the improvements in muscular strength just because NR isn’t a cure-all.
Joe Cannon says
Hey Bob, better late than never! 🙂 You bring up some good points and I have wondered if some of the NR and NMN studies were under powered. I think that may be a problem with many dieary supplement studies too. I looked at the clincal trial you listed. A cursory search didn’t turn it up either although I did just see a study on NR improving sleep deprevitation induced gut dysbiosis. Ive been trying to keep up with the NR and NMN human clincal trials. Ive been summarizing them in videos on my youtube channel. Here are links to some of the videos
I also have some other reviews on this website too Here
People like yourself do tell me some interesting things about NR and NMN. While I have been around long enough to remember the hype about gerovital, resveratrol, DHEA and others, I always try to keep an open mind. Let’s see what the future research studies tell us.
Are you taking both NR and NMN? How much and how long did it take you to notice improvements in muscular strength?
Joe Cannon says
Hey Bob, I was looking through my videos and found this one on NMN and insomnia: https://youtu.be/ef41FY7BLEg
Great article. I love the idea someone is on top of these “get rich quick” products being hyped up before the public. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!
The truth not only set us free.. it keeps us free.👍
Joe Cannon says
Thanks so much for saying that Adism! I appreciate you 🙂
I am about to have a friend is a licensed nutritionist drop ship some Thorne niagen at a great savings to myself. Then combine as mentioned already. Brad
Joe Cannon says
Brad, let me know what happens. Thorn is a good company 🙂
Very good questions asked here. I too wondered about this, having used niacin years ago and accidentally getting a niacin product, not niagen and sending it back. But then wondered if I should not have kept it to see if in fact I would not have gotten the same results. Since I have planned to experiment with combining due to the cost.
Know, I am 80 years old, been using niagen for a few years now and corrected some nerve damage due to a broken back as I could not stand for more than 20 min in one place before without my leg giving way. It also reversed some neuropathy on both legs and increased my cognitive ability 100%.
I can now walk easily several miles, cleared and timbered a couple of lake lots, built two houseboats since going on this. It does work, but the cost is hurting me greatly as now my wife is 66 and I am starting her on the regimen due to myself having great results.
I am beat to hell, having worked too hard, have five joint replacements and been crushed fighting a fire under a building which should have killed me but did not.
Joe Cannon says
Hi Brad, Thanks so much ans thanks for sharing your experiences. I am glad you are doing so well in spite of all you have been through. I wish I had experienced benefits when I tried Niagen.
My 30 day Niagen Experiment
That said, it sounds like you have been through a lot more than me (I’ve never had building fall on me) so it could be niagen works best for those who have more serious health issues? I cannot say either way. Regardless, I am glad to hear Niagen has been working for you and wish you much more success too.
Keep me updated on how your wife does with Niagen too 🙂
Just a quick comment: Niagen (NR) does not work quickly on some problems. I started taking it about 5 years ago because of a worsening short term memory. It took about 2-3 months before I noticed an improvement. But the “repair” continued until I had no noticeable deficit.
My longer term memory also improved over the next several years, but that is a more subjective observation. I have had multiple other improvements in body function and reduced pain, but that is a much longer story.
Joe Cannon says
Craig, thanks for sharing. I admit the degree and time it takes to which Niagen may help could be different depending on the issues someone had.
I tried it for a 30 day experiment but didn’t notice any changes. I’m wasnt dealing with many problems however.
Glad to hear you have been seeing memory improvements. 🙂
As someone who is taking this supplement i see it as some kind of educated gamble. If you are almost 40 like me, you can’t just wait for another 20 years for more results.
To my knowledge there is at least evidence that exercise and caloric restriction have positive effects on telomeres and aspects of aging in humans and there is reason to believe (?) that NR more or less affects the same genetic pathways.
I totally agree that they should measure telomere length in their studies.
Regarding the claim “slowing aging” i think that aging has different aspects (like telomere shortening, DNA-Damage, hormone changes…). Any “anti-aging”-method would probably not target all of those aspects together. However, i would also appreciate a pill which helps me keeping a more youthful DNA longer, even if other aspects of aging still persist.
But fair enough, in the list above the only positive effects i am sure of is an increase in energy (mostly brain) and a boost in libido.
Male39, thanks for sharing and I do remember what you said previously about how NR is helping you. The study on blood pressure I was just alerted to (see the comments), seems to back up the modest blood pressure lowering effect you said you experienced too. At my core, I want people to be healthy and also save money in the process. As you pointed out, exercise seems to have many of the same effects as NR. would they work better together? I would like to see more exercise research. I’m glad ChromaDex is working with universities to research their product. I’m hoping they address some of the things I tried to bring up here.
Giuliano Nieri says
Thanks Joe for your take on this. I did read a recent small research study with humans that indicated some possible blood pressure lowering effect. Did you see that? It was written up on google news and elsewhere. In the study the subjects got 500mgs 2 X per day. At the price they charge for it one could go broke considering they want $35 for 2 bottles with just 60 100mgs pills. They say to take one pill a day or 100mgs while the study used 1000mgs.
I bought some but your comments make me wonder if it’s just another scam.
Hi Giuliano, Thanks for telling me about this study. I just found it
I will read this study and update my big review on the NR studies (it’s linked to in this review). I noticed the Blood Pressure study was headed by Dr. Christopher Martens. he’s an accomplished researcher. When I google his name, I saw in July 2017 given at least 1 talk to ChromaDex investors.
http://investors.chromadex.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=212121&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=2285241 it looks like it was about this study you brought up.
People do tell me some interesting things about NR (see the comments on my NR studies review). Because its expensive and similar to niacin, I just cant think of a sensible reason why nobody tests NR against niacin to see if they raise NAD levels similarly.
We’ll have to see what the future holds.