For those tempted to take supplements that boost levels of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) – I can’t offer you much help. I’m struggling with the decision myself.
Here are the things that I am using to weigh my decision.
In brief, we know that raising NAD+ levels seems to target the key mechanisms of ageing – damage to DNA and deterioration of mitochondria, our cell’s power packs.
Raising NAD+ levels in older mice gives them back their muscle strength, boosts their stem cells, and slightly increases their life span. This link – warning, it’s also a sales brochure – clearly outlines what’s known.
But we are not mice. And just because something is natural, boosting its levels is not necessarily a good thing. Hormone replacement therapy, for instance, raises the risk of breast cancer.
A trial to test the effects of beta carotene supplements found that they likewise raised the risk of cancer.
So far, a trial of 120 people aged 60–80 has looked at how effectively the supplements raised NAD+ levels over 8 weeks.
They also looked at whether there are any acute toxicity concerns by checking the effects on blood profiles, blood pressure, physical strength, and sleep.
The results suggest that the supplements do indeed raise NAD+ levels, and there don’t appear to be any acute toxic effects as yet. The effects on other blood markers and strength are yet to be reported.
A scientist I’ve spoken to who has taken the supplements for a year told me that she feels more energetic, sleeps less, and has very vivid dreams. Another side-effect she has heard of is lowered blood pressure.
There are numerous small clinical trials in the works testing the supplements for mild cognitive impairment, concussion, kidney damage, obesity and – of course – ageing.
This site – from a company formed by MIT’s Leonard Guarente – is also packed full of information.
The problem is: will we ever get a real answer to the question of whether NAD+ supplements truly slow ageing? And will they have long-term side-effects?
What’s needed is a gold standard clinical trial, that carefully recruits people and studies them over a number of years. Like the TAME trial. There are two related difficulties. It’s not clear the FDA will approve a drug for the indication of ageing. And that in turn makes it hard to entice drug companies to spend the money.
Keep watching this space.
Elizabeth Finkel is editor-at-large of Cosmos.
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