Nicotinamide riboside (Niagen) is a compound, related to the B vitamin, niacin. I've been hearing a lot about this supplement regarding its ability to slow aging, help diabetes and improve exercise performance and other things. 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.
See These Posts Too
- Reasons To Be Skeptical Of Nicotinamide Riboside (Niagen)
- My Niagen 30 Day Experiment
- Elysium Basis Review
Nicotinamide vs. Niacinamide
Before we get started it's good to remember that both nicotinamide and niacinamide, both refer to the B vitamin, niacin. Another name is nicotinic acid.
- nicotinamide =niacin
- nicotinic acid = niacin
All these different names can easily confuse some people. So I wanted to make this clear. Also, 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.” Many people abbreviate it as just calling it “NR.”
Nicotinamide riboside – which comes from niacin – helps us make a molecule called NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide). The NAD molecule in turn, is something which helps us make energy (ATP). The NAD molecule also seems to play a role in the aging process.
Defects in our ability to make energy (APT) seem to play a role in the aging process. So anything that could supply us with NAD might fix these problems and –theoretically – reduce the risk of aging-related diseases – and maybe the aging process too.
Nicotinamide Riboside Benefits
According to various advertisements, Niagen supplements are touted to help with a variety of problems such as:
All this sounds great. But, is there any proof? In this review I'll show you both the human proof and lab animal evidence. This will help you best understand what we know – and do not yet know – about what niagen supplements means for humans.
If you, find any research I did not cover here, please let me know.
How Do We Make NR?
Small amounts of nicotinamide riboside are 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.
Researchers in Finland, noted nicotinamide riboside, given to to mice caused 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? if we do the math for someone weighing 180 pounds (82 kg), it's 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.
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?
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
How much is this for people? doing the math, it's 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? good question. Let's see what future research shows.
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. So, would restoring NAD levels, reverse sarcopenia and help people get stronger again?
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.”
How much is that for people? For someone weighing 150 pounds (68 kg) it's about 1 gram per day.
While the results are intriguing, the word “significant” is not used anywhere in the study. In other words, were the results scientifically significant? In other words, did NR significantly restore exercise capacity in the mice? Since they didn't say this, my hunch is it did not.
Even if NR did significantly improve exercise ability, would the same thing happen in older people? 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
All this is intruding but what about people? Currently there is no human proof nicotinamide riboside helps people with dementia or those who have concussions or tramautic brain injury.
Does It Help Alcoholics?
It's well known -even to those who like to drink – that alcohol is a poison. So 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. Also the amount of NR used was a LOT more than is in typical supplements. Niagen labels recommend just 205-500 mg per day. Given the price of NR supplements, I'd doubt most alcoholics could afford this dosage.
Nicotinamide Riboside And Diabetes
Can Niagen supplements help diabetes? A mouse study noted NR reduced blood sugar, weight gain, diabetic neuropathy and liver problems in mice which had type II diabetes.
Researchers in Korea have also found NR supplements reduced liver inflammation.
All this is great but what about people with diabetes? More research is needed.
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? Well, a mouse study has suggested it might but human evidence is lacking.
Nicotinamide Riboside And Weight Loss
Can NR help people lose weight? Let's look at the evidence for this claim.
In one study -which is basically a test tube experiment – researchers treated mouse and human cells with nicotinamide riboside and noticed it increased 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. This finding may be why some people say this supplement can help people lose weight.
In another study, researchers gave obese mice various amounts of NR and saw 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.
Until human studies prove NR supplements (niagen/niacel / Elysium Basis) helps people lose weight, take claims like this with a big grain of salt.
Nicotinamide Riboside And 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.
Remember NR supplements come from niacinamide.
Nicotinamide Riboside And Fibromyalgia
Can NR supplements (niagen/niacel or Elysium Basis) help people with fibromylagia? (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.
While various websites might say NR supplements help 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 means it helps with people with this condition needs more research.
If you have fibromylagia and have tried Niagen supplements, leave a comment below. I want to hear from you.
Nicotinamide Riboside And MS
Can Niagen supplements help people with muscular dystrophy or Duchenne muscular dystrophy? What about multiple sclerosis? While preliminary evidence suggests it might, the evidence is limited to mice at this point. More research is needed.
Summary Of NR Research
Here is a quick overview of the Niagen 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 flexibility”|
|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. Remember this is the same thing as Niagen. As you can see from this table, there are few human studies. Must research involved mice, rats or test tubes.
Nicotinamide Riboside And Aging
Can Niagen supplements 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 complicated (if it weren't, we would have cured aging by now). Currently no studies have proved Niagen can slow aging in humans. There is also no evidence Niagen can lengthen telomeres either.
Does NR Cause Cancer?
There is some internet speculation that NR might increase brain cancer. This controversy appears to mostly come from a test tube study.
In this study, 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 Niagen supplements causes cancer.
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.
Nicotinamide Riboside In Foods
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 Tru Niagen?
There are several different types of NR being sold. One of the most popular is called Tru Niagen. Why? Because it is the Niagen 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 sells 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 Niagen 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 human clinical trials to know for sure how much might work in people.
Niacin vs. Nicotinamide Riboside
The glaring omission in the research is NOBODY seems want to compare Niagen to niacin. 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.
Does NR 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 with nicotimamide riboside, my guess is it's probably a rare occurrence. In my 30 day experiment, I did not experience flushing.
Does Niagen Raise NAD Levels?
Yes. The research does show this. As proof, researchers in Colorado, gave Niagen or a placebo to 60 healthy older 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
Niagen 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 being made for nicotinamide riboside I was struck by how its benefits 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 Niagen 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 you understand the claims made and to better decide if this supplement is right for them. For me, I believe Niagen is over hyped and under researched. Does it work? You tell me. See my Niagen Experiment Results.