Nicotinamide riboside is a compound, related to the B vitamin, niacin. I've been hearing a lot about this supplement regarding its reported ability to slow aging, help diabetes and improve exercise performance among other things. From what I heard, it sounded very impressive. So I became curious. Does nicotinamide riboside really work? What does the research say? In this review, I'll show you the studies on nicotinamide riboside (also known as Niacel and Niagen) and the health benefits its supposed to have . Keep reading and let's see if you need to start taking nicotinamide riboside or not.
Nicotinamide vs. Niacinamide
Before we get started its good to remember that nicotinamide and niacinamide, both refer to the vitamin, niacin. Another name is nicotinic acid. Nicotinic acid is not the same thing as nicotine you get from tobacco.
What Is Nicotinamide Riboside?
Let's geek out for a moment and talk about what nicotinamide riboside (NR) is. It's pronounced “nick-a-tin-a-mide rye-bow -side.”
The more familiar name for nicotinamide is niacinamide ( say, “nI-a-sin-a-mide“). It's also known as nicotinic acid. By whatever name you call it, it's is a vitamin related to the B vitamin, niacin.
Both niacin and niacinamide (nicotinamide) are also sometimes called vitamin B3.
Nicotinamide riboside helps us make another molecule called NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide). The NAD molecule in turn, is something which helps us burn fat and make energy (scientists
call this energy, ATP). The NAD molecule also seems to play a role in the aging process.
Nicotinamide Riboside Benefits
According to various advertisements, nicotinamide riboside supplements are touted to help with a variety of issues including the following:
- Insulin insensitivity
- Brain health
- Weight loss
- Muscle growth
I wanted to find research on these claims. More importantly, I want to find human research for NR. My hope is to help people better decide if they need to add NR supplements to the list of supplements they already take.
This review of research will be an ongoing effort. As I become aware of more research I'll update this review. If you, find any research I did not cover here, I hope you will let me know.
How Do We Make NR?
Small amounts of nicotinamide riboside can be found in milk. We also make NR from the amino acid, tryptophan as well as from the vitamins, niacin and niacinamide. Both niacin and niacinamide are thought to be better at producing NR than tryptophan.
Nicotinamide Riboside And The Mitochondria
The mitochondria are often called the “powerhouses” of the cell. Basically, they are fat-burning batteries. They provide us with energy by burning fat. One of the benefits of nicotinamide riboside is it's supposed to help the mitochondria work better.
In a 2014 study titled Effective treatment of mitochondrial myopathy by nicotinamide riboside, a vitamin B3, researchers noted nicotinamide riboside, given to to mice with defects to their mitochondira, delayed progression of their disease by causing the growth of mitochondria in both muscle and brown fat cells. In this study, the mice were given 400 mg per kilogram per day.
How much in people? The conversion factor for mice is 0.08. So, 400 X 0.08 = 32. Remember there are 2.2 pounds in a kilogram (kg). So if you weighted 180 pounds (82 kg), the human dosage in this study would be 82 X 32 = about 2.6 grams per day.
While this is basically just a mouse study, it's interesting because NR was shown to increase mitochondria in brown fat. Whats brown fat? It's a more metabolically active form of the more common, white fat.
Brown fat burns more calories. By having more brown fat, some say, it can help people lose weight. So, by increasing the mitochondria in brown fat, might NR make brown fat work better? Might this help people lose more weight?
It's an interesting question and I'll be looking forward to human weight loss research. I believe this study is what first got people interested in nicotinamide riboside as a weight loss supplement. See the weight loss section below for more on this study.
Nicotinamide Riboside And Exercise
Does NR help people exercise better? There is some research on this topic. In a 2016 study titled The NAD+ precursor nicotinamide riboside decreases exercise performance in rats, researchers gave rats either a placebo or nicotinamide riboside (300 mg per kilogram) for 21 days.
How much is this for people? The conversion factor for rats of 0.16. So this becomes 300 X 0.16 = 48 mg/ kg. Since there are 2.2 pounds in a kilogram, if you weighed 160 pounds (72.7 kg), this becomes 72.7 X 48 = about 3.5 grams per day.
They then made the rats do a swimming test. The rats which received NR performed worse than those given the placebo. It was not a “significant” decrease (significant in the world of science), but it was a decrease nonetheless.
What about people? Let's see what future studies show.
Nicotinamide Riboside And Muscle
As we get older, we tend to lose muscle strength and endurance. This loss of strength as we get older is called sarcopenia (sar-co-pee-knee-a). It turns out NAD levels decrease as we get older too. Would restoring NAD levels, help people regain muscle strength?
This was a question researchers in 2016 study looked at. The study was titled Loss of NAD homeostasis leads to progressive and reversible degeneration of skeletal muscle.(click to read the pdf of the study. Word to the wise: it's very complicated).
Basically, researchers used mice and purposely knocked out their ability to make NAD. This eventually lead to a loss of endurance and strength. The researchers noted 1 week of nicotinamide riboside (200 mg per kilogram dissolved in water), ” was sufficient to dramatically restore exercise capacity.”
Remember, the mouse conversion factor is 0.08. So this becomes 800 X 0.08 =16. For the person who weighs 150 pounds (68 kg) this would be 68 X 16 = about 1 gram per day.
While the results are very intriguing, I noticed the word “significant” is not used anywhere in the study. In other words, were the results seen scientifically significant? Did it significantly restore exercise capacity in the mice? Since they didn't say this, my hunch is it did not.
Even if it did significantly improve exercise ability, would the same thing happen in older adults? Would nicotinamide riboside improve exercise capacity in someone who is younger and whose NAD levels are not depleted? Let's see what future studies say.
Nicotinamide Riboside And Alzheimer's
Can NR improve memory in those with dementia? Well, in a 2013 study titled Nicotinamide riboside restores cognition through an upregulation of proliferator-activated receptor-γ coactivator 1α regulated β-secretase 1 degradation and mitochondrial gene expression in Alzheimer’s mouse models, researchers gave mice with Alzheimer's disease NR at a dose equal to 250 mg per kilogram of body weight for 3 months. In human's this is 40 mg per kilogram. The compound slowed the disease progression.
Whether or not NR supplements can help people who have dementia or concussions needs more study.
Does It Help Alcoholics?
Its well known -even to those who like to drink – that alcohol is a poison. its bad for the liver and a lot of other body systems. Can NR help people who are alcoholics? A mouse study suggests NR supplements might reduce liver problems from alcohol
Basically mice were force-fed alcohol for 16 days. Some mice received nicotinamide riboside at a dosage of 400 mg per kilogram of body weight. In people terms, this is about 5.7 grams for a 180 pound person. The mice getting NR supplements had less liver damage than those not getting NR supplements.
This sounds great except it was just a mouse study. Most would not know that from the study title, which doesn't even mention mice. Also the amount of NR used was based on body weight. As I showed in the math, the amount would be 5.7 grams of NR for a 180 pound person. This is a LOT more than is in typical supplements. Given the price of NR supplements, I'd doubt most alcoholics could afford this treatment.
Nicotinamide Riboside And Diabetes
Can NR improve diabetes? In a 2016 titled Nicotinamide Riboside Opposes Type 2 Diabetes and Neuropathy in Mice, the compound reduced blood sugar, weight gain and diabetic neuropathy liver problems in mice which had type II diabetes.
In this study, the mice were given NR at 3 grams per kilogram of body weight.
A mouse study performed in 2016 titled Hepatic NAD(+) deficiency as a therapeutic target for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in ageing noted NR supplementation improved non-alcholic fatty liver disease.
Diabetes can cause liver inflammation. This 2015 mouse study titled Nicotinamide Riboside Ameliorates Hepatic Metaflammation by Modulating NLRP3 Inflammasome in a Rodent Model of Type 2 Diabetes suggested NR reduced liver inflammation. The amount used was 100 mg per kilogram.
Can Nicotinamide Riboside Help The Liver?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a serious disorder which can lead to sclerosis of the liver. The liver has more mitochondria than any other tissue in the body. Since NR is touted to help the mitochondria work better, might this supplement help people with NAFLD? It's an interesting idea an is deserving of research. Stay tuned.
Nicotinamide Riboside And Weight Loss
Can NR help people lose weight? Let's look at the research for this claim.
One study, used to support the weight loss effects of this NR was published in 2012 and titled The NAD(+) precursor nicotinamide riboside enhances oxidative metabolism and protects against high-fat diet-induced obesity.
This is basically a mouse and test tube experiment. Scientists treated mouse and human cells with nicotinamide riboside and noticed it increased certain enzymes (called sirtuin enzymes) involved in burning fat.
The researchers also fed male mice a high fat diet while giving them nicotinamide riboside (at 400 mg per kilogram per day) or nothing.
While NR did not cause weight loss, it seemed to reduce the mice from gaining weight as much as those only were fed a high fat diet. As mentioned above, this finding may be why some people say this supplement can help people lose weight.
In another mouse study, published in 2017, titled Effects of a wide range of dietary nicotinamide riboside (NR) concentrations on metabolic flexibility and white adipose tissue (WAT) of mice fed a mildly obesogenic diet. researchers gave obese mice various amounts of NR and noted no weight loss or or changes in lean mass (I take this to be muscle) at all after 15 weeks of use.
The researchers did say NR helped “metabolic flexibility” in other words, the ability of the body to switch back and fourth from burning fat to burning carbs. That's nice, but when it comes to actual weight loss, these researchers didn't see it.
So, does niicotinamide riboside help weight loss? Lets wait for human research.
What About Eyesight?
An interesting mouse study, published in 2017 which found vitamin B3 (nicotinamide) helped reduce the odds of older mice from getting glaucoma. This study did not use nicotinamide riboside but rather, regular nicotinamide.
Nicotinamide Riboside And Fibromyalgia
Those with fibromyaliga may have heard that ribose might help their condition (click to read my review of ribose). Ribose is part of nicotinamide riboside. There has also been some speculation free radical stress in the mitochondria might be related to fibromyalgia symptoms.
Based on this, the question is : do NR supplements, help fibromyalgia? This is a good question which needs to be researched in people. While various sources might tout this as something beneficial to fibromyalgia, we need human studies to know for sure.
People with fibromyalgia are often in a lot of pain. A study published in 2017 noted NR reduced “tactile hypersensitivity” (nerve pain associated with touch) in rats after a month of treatment. Fibromyalgia does appear to be connected to a hyper-sensitivity of nerves but whether or not this translates to help with those with the condition needs more research.
If anyone with fibromyalgia has tried NR supplements please leave a comment below so others can benefit from your experiences.
Can It Help Muscular Dystrophy?
Can supplements containing nicotinamide riboside help people with Duchene's muscular dystrophy or other forms of muscular dystrophy? What about multiple sclerosis? Some preliminary evidence suggests it might. The evidence so far deals with mice. It suggests NR can improve mitochondria functioning and reduce inflammation in mice with these disorders.
Summary Of Research
Here is a quick overview of the research presented above.
|nicotinamide riboside is uniquely and orally bioavailable in mice and humans.||Human. 1 man||NR ↑ NAD|
|Effective treatment of mitochondrial myopathy by nicotinamide riboside, a vitamin B3||Mouse||NR ↑ mitochondria growth|
|The NAD+ precursor nicotinamide riboside decreases exercise performance in rats||Rats||NR ↓ exercise ability|
|Nicotinamide riboside restores cognition through an upregulation of proliferator-activated receptor-γ coactivator 1α regulated β-secretase 1 degradation and mitochondrial gene expression in Alzheimer’s mouse models||Mouse||NR ↓ Alzheimers progression|
|Nicotinamide Riboside Opposes Type 2 Diabetes and Neuropathy in Mice||mouse||NR ↑ blood sugar|
|Hepatic NAD(+) deficiency as a therapeutic target for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in ageing||Mouse||NR ↑ NAFLD|
|Nicotinamide Riboside Ameliorates Hepatic Metaflammation by Modulating NLRP3 Inflammasome in a Rodent Model of Type 2 Diabetes||Mouse||NR ↓liver inflammation|
|The NAD(+) precursor nicotinamide riboside enhances oxidative metabolism and protects against high-fat diet-induced obesity||Mouse/test tube||NR ↑ fat burning enzymes|
|Loss of NAD homeostasis leads to progressive and reversible degeneration of skeletal muscle||Mouse||NR ↑ exercise ability|
|Nicotinamide riboside, a form of vitamin B3 and NAD+ precursor, relieves the nociceptive and aversive dimensions of paclitaxel-induced peripheral neuropathy in female rats||Rat||NR ↓ tactile hypersensitivity|
|Effects of a wide range of dietary nicotinamide riboside (NR) concentrations on metabolic flexibility and white adipose tissue (WAT) of mice fed a mildly obesogenic diet.||Mouse||NR ↑ “metabolic flexability”|
|Chronic nicotinamide riboside supplementation is well-tolerated and elevates NAD+ in healthy middle-aged and older adults||Human||NR ↑ NAD|
In the table above, “NR” means nicotinamide riboside.
Nicotinamide Riboside And Aging
Can nicotinamide riboside slow the aging process? This is unknown. Sirtuins (pronounced, “sir-two-ins”) are genes which appear to be involved in the aging process. It turns out that sirtuins need NAD to work. Nicotinamide riboside helps us make NAD. So, the idea is NR supplements, help anti-aging sirtuin genes work better by providing NAD molecules. This might help us stay younger and healthier longer.
But, aging is complex (if it weren't, we would have cured aging by now). Currently no studies have demonstrated that NR can slow aging in humans. There is no evidence NR can lengthen telomeres either.
Does NR Cause Cancer?
There is some internet speculation that NR might increase brain cancer. This controversy appears to mostly stem from a test tube study titled ” An NAD+-dependent transcriptional program governs self-renewal and radiation resistance in glioblastoma.”
Here, it was stated an enzyme involved in NAD production (called NAMPT) is “highly expressed” in glioblastoma tumors. Higher NAMPT levels generally mean lower patient survival. This is an interesting observation but two issues are it's not a human study and it did not look at nicotinamide riboside directly.
Cancer is scary. Right now there is no evidence NR causes cancer. It would be interesting however to take a look at this with a few more investigations.
What Is Nicotinamide Mononucleotide?
Nicotinamide mononucleotide (called NMN and B NMN) is another molecule that can raise NAD levels. Like NR, NMN comes from the vitamin niacin. As can be seen in this Readers Digest article, the same claims are being made for nicotinamide mononucleotide as for NR – slowing the aging process.
So how is NMN different than NR? They both come from niacin so I don't see them as very different from each other. Like, NR, the evidence for NMN benefits comes mostly from mouse and test tube studies. There are NMN supplements but I would not waste money on them at this point.
Like NR supplements, NMN supplements are long on marketing and short on human proof.
What Foods Have Nicotinamide Riboside?
Can you get NR naturally? Yes. One of the best sources of this compound is milk from cows. In fact, the study linked to highlights the whey protein portion of milk as containing nicotinamide riboside.
So, if you are using drinking milk or using whey protein supplements, you are getting small amounts of NR too. The study also mentions “yeast containing foods” as well.
What Is Niagen Niccotnamide Riboside?
There are several different types of NR being sold on Amazon. One of the most popular is called Niagen. Why? Because it is the NR supplement made by the Chromadex -the company which invented nicotinamide riboside. Chromadex sells NR to other companies to let them use in their NR supplements. For example, two other popular NR supplements are :
- Elysium Basis (read review)
Everyone who has an NR supplement, pays Chromadex for the privilege of using it. Although if you read the Elysium Basis review, you'll see the controversy about this. Chromadex, located in Irvine California is a publicly traded company. It stock symbol is CDXC. Here's there Wikipedia page.
Is NR Better With Pterostilbene ?
Some supplements contain only NR while others may combine it with other ingredients (like resveratrol or pterostilbene for example). Whether or not products that combine nicotinamide riboside with other ingredients are better than just taking NR alone is open to to speculation until research is done.
How Much Works?
From the table above you can see the lab animal studies based the amount given on the animals weight. For improving mitochondria, several studies have used between 100 mg per kilogram and 400 mg per kilogram. But, that doesn't mean a 180 pound man should use 100 mg per kilogram however because mouse dosages are different than human dosages.
We can do a calculation to estimate how much might be best for people but, until real human studies are done, I'm not convinced this would be accurate. My guess is the amounts supplements contain are estimations based on what was use in the animal research. While conversions like this are common in research, mice and people are not the same. We need clinical trials involving humans, to know for sure how much might work in people.
Niacin vs. Nicotinamide Riboside
The glaring ommission in the research is NOBODY seems to have compared niacin to nicotinamide riboside. Do they raise NAD levels equally?
What's the difference between niacin and nicotinamide riboside? The biggest difference is the price. Niacin is inexpensive. Nicotinamide riboside is not. While I'm not aware of anyone looking at this (yet), I wonder if taking regular, old boring, niacinamide might raise nicotinamide riboside levels?
I mention niacinamide (also called nicotinamide and nicotinic acid) because it's the less toxic version of niacin. At least one rat study does show that niacinamide raises NAD levels. Would the same thing happen in people? Rats and people are different, but since niacinamide is part of nicotinamide riboside, I think it's possible.Here's Niacinamide on Amazon
Does It Cause Flushing?
One of the most common side effects of the vitamin, niacin is flushing of the face. It's often called the “niacin flush” because it's so common of an effect. While some have reported flushing, my guess is its probably a rare occurrence.
Does NR Raise NAD Levels?
Yes. The research does show this. As proof, researchers in Colorado, gave NR or a placebo to 60 healthy oldler adults (55-79 years) for 6 weeks. The amount used was 500 mg twice a day (1000 mg total). After 6 weeks, NAD levels were 5X higher than those taking a placebo. The supplement used in this was Niagen
Nicotinamide Riboside Side Effects
I believe NR is safe in healthy people. In August 2016, the FDA deemed Niagen Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS).That FDA ruling was probably based on the results of this small study in humans released which found nicotinamide riboside to be safe.
This study involved 12 healthy men and women who were given doses ranging from 100 mg, 300 mg or 1000 mg of NR per day for a week each. The study showed no side effects and that NR significantly raised NAD levels, with higher dosages leading to higher NAD levels. This study only looked at safety. It was not designed to test if NR improved any health issues.
For those who are not so “healthy” its wise to speak to a pharmacist and doctor to get a more personalized recommendation on safety. Just a few people this might apply to include
- Women who are pregnant/breastfeeding
- People who take medications.
- Stop taking NR at least 2 weeks before having surgery.
Exercise vs. Nicotinamide Riboside
Looking at the claims made for nicotinamide riboside I was struck by how its benefits are very similar to another – lesser expensive – supplement. Many of the claims for nicotinamide riboside are very similar to those made for exercise. For example, it's well known regular exercise can:
It doesn't take a lot of exercise either to achieve some of these effects. In the longer life study linked to above, it took just 15 minutes of walking per day to lengthen life by 3 years!
How much would people pay for a supplement that promised to lengthen life by at least 3 extra years? Something to think about…
Does Nicotinamide Riboside Work?
There is a lot of talk about the possible benefits of nicotinamide riboside and how it might slow aging, improve exercise, help weight loss and and a bunch of other things. In this review, I've summarized the very complicated nicotinamide riboside (Niagen) research to help equip people with the information they need to understand the claims made and to better decide if this supplement is right for them. For me, I believe NR is over hyped and under researched. Does it work? You tell me.