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.
What Is Nicotinamide Riboside?
Let's geek out for a moment and talk about what nicotinamide riboside (NR) is.its 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 that is 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 that helps us burn fat and make energy (scientists
call this energy, ATP). The NAD molecule also appears to be involved with various health issues. NAD also seems to play a role in the aging process.
Even though nicotinamide (nicotinic acid) kind of sounds like nicotine, there is no nicotine in nicotinamide riboside supplements.
When it comes to supplements, you'll often see the word “Niagen” associated with NR. Niagen is a product of a company called Chromadex (more about that below). Many NR supplements get their NR from this company.
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 brief review of research will be an ongoing effort. As I become aware of more research I'll add it to this review. If you, the reader, 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 that 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 that 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 terms is this? 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 that received NR performed worse than those that got 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 that NAD levels decrease as we get older too. Would restoring NAD levels, help people regain muscle strength?
This was a question that a 2016 study looked at. The study, is 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 that 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 that 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 that 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 Alzheimers
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. The compound slowed the disease progression.
One study involving mouse brain cells has shown that NR can reduce brain cell death.
Whether or not NR supplements can help people who have dementia or concussions needs more study.
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 that 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 that 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 that NR reduced liver inflammation. The amount used was 100 mg per kilogram.
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 that 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 that 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 that 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 noted that 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 about research 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 that 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 that 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 that 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.
Where's The Evidence In People?
Is there any proof nicotinamide riboside helps people? Until recently there was no human studies on this supplement. That changed in 2016 with the publication of a study titled nicotinamide riboside is uniquely and orally bioavailable in mice and humans. This study appears to show that 1000 mg of NR raised levels of NAD in 1 person. Yes, that is correct, this study only involved 1, healthy 52 year old man. There were some mice involved too but that's not relevant in this section.
A few things about this investigation worth mentioning. Chromadex, the creator of NR sponsored the study. The study states that 3 of the researchers own stock in ChromaDex.
Summary Of Research
Here is a quick overview of the research presented above.
|Study Title||Type Of Study||Results|
|nicotinamide riboside is uniquely and orally bioavailable in mice and humans.||Human study - 1 man only||NR raises NAD levels.|
|Effective treatment of mitochondrial myopathy by nicotinamide riboside, a vitamin B3||Mouse study||NR increased mitochondria growth (400 mg /kg)|
|The NAD+ precursor nicotinamide riboside decreases exercise performance in rats,||Rat study||exercise performance of rats getting NR was worse than those getting placebo (300 mg/kg)|
|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 study||NR slowed Alzheimers progression in mice (250 mg/ kg)|
|Nicotinamide Riboside Opposes Type 2 Diabetes and Neuropathy in Mice||Mouse study||NR improves blood sugar, weight loss,neuropathy and liver problems in mice with type II diabetes (3g per kg)|
|Hepatic NAD(+) deficiency as a therapeutic target for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in ageing||Mouse study||NR improves non-alcholic fatty liver disease.|
|Nicotinamide Riboside Ameliorates Hepatic Metaflammation by Modulating NLRP3 Inflammasome in a Rodent Model of Type 2 Diabetes||Mouse study||NR reduces liver inflammation in mice with type II diabetes (100 mg/kg)|
|The NAD(+) precursor nicotinamide riboside enhances oxidative metabolism and protects against high-fat diet-induced obesity||Mouse and test tube study||NR increases fat burning enzymes. No change in body weight (400 mg/ kg)|
|Loss of NAD homeostasis leads to progressive and reversible degeneration of skeletal muscle||Mouse study||NR improves exercise capacity in older mice (200 mg/kg).|
|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 study||NR reduces 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 study||No weight loss but might help "metabolic flexibility"|
In the table above, “NR” means nicotinamide riboside. Where possible, I also listed the amounts used in the studies too. This is to help others doing their own research.
Nicotinamide Riboside And Aging
This is the big promise of nicotinamide riboside. Can it slow the aging process? What's the scoop on this?
Well, we have, inside of us, genes called sirtuins (pronounced, “sir-two-ins”) that appear to be involved in the aging process. It turns out that sirtuins need NAD to work properly. Nicotinamide riboside helps us make NAD.
So, the idea is that by taking NR supplements, they help these anti-aging sirtuin genes work better by providing NAD molecules. This might help us stay younger and healthier longer.
If we stick a pin in the fact that aging is incredibly complex (if it weren't, we would have cured aging by now), this notion does, on the
surface, make some sense. Just give the body what it needs (in this case, nicotinamide riboside) and it will take care of the rest.
I'm sure most have heard of the anti-aging effects of resveratrol, a component of grapes and red wine. Some of these effects are thought to be due to resveratrol's effects on sirtuin genes.
Reducing calories (by about 25% of what we normally eat) also seems to have life-prolonging effects as well. Sirtuin genes appear to be affected by reduced calorie intake.
Calorie restriction is so popular that's it's spawned several diet books such as The Fast Diet.
If you are thinking that this is all very complicated, it is. The bottom line is that I'm not aware of any studies showing nicotinamide riboside slows aging in humans. It might make sense on paper, so I say lets test it – in people – and see.
Natural Sources Of Nicotinamide Riboside
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.
Which NR Supplement Is Best?
When I checked Amazon, I saw several NR supplements. Three popular supplements are Niacen, Niagen and Elysium Basis.
Which is best for you?
Well, if you look at the labels of the different products, you'll notice they all get their nicotinamide riboside from a the same company – ChromaDex Corporation which is located in Irvine California. The company stock symbol is “CDXC.” Here's there Wikipedia page.
Niagen is the NR supplement that ChromaDex officially sells. Many supplements might mention Niagen and/or ChromaDex on their labels. So, ChromaDex lets other companies -for a fee I'm sure – use Niagen (NR) in their supplements.
My hunch is that most products containing ChromaDex NR /Niagen are probably similar although they may contain different amounts per capsule.
Some supplements contain only NR while others may combine NR with other ingredients (like resveratrol 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.
Most supplements contain a specific amount of NR (for example, 125 mg etc.). But, if you look at the research summarized above, notice how the amount used is often based on body weight. In other words, how much works might be based on how much you weigh.
Also, the amount used in animal studies might not translate to how much is best for humans.
How much is best for people? I believe we need human studies to best figure this out.
How Much Works?
From the table above you can see that the lab animal studies based the amount on how much the animals weigh. 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 that supplements contain are estimations based on what was use in the animal research. While conversions like this are common in research mice are not the same thing as people.
We need clinical trials involving humans, to know for sure how much might work in people.
Niacin vs. Nicotinamide Riboside
Nicotinamide riboside is relatively expensive. Could people just take niacinamide instead and let the body make its own nicotinamide riboside? 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 (nicotinamide also called nicotinic acid) because it's the less toxic version of niacin. Indeed, at least one rat study does show that niacinamide raises NR levels very effectively. Would the same thing happen in people? Rats and people are different to be sure, 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. My guess is that nicotinamide riboside probably does not cause any flushing because it's based on the niacinamide version of the vitamin which doesn't have a flushing effect.
Nicotinamide Riboside Side Effects
In a 2016 study titled Safety assessment of nicotinamide riboside, a form of vitamin B3, rats were treated with nicotinamide riboside for up to 90 days at a dose up to 5000 mg per kilogram of body weight. No deaths were observed at that dosage.
The product was deemed as safe as niacinamide up to 3000 mg per kilogram of body weight although adverse side effects were noted at 1000 mg per kilogram of body weight. No adverse side effects were seen at 30o mg per kilogram of body weight. This study used a specific product called Niagen. This product, like many others, gets its nicotinamide riboside from ChromaDex Corporation (see above for more on ChromaDex).
So how much is safe for people to use? Again, I think its best to do human experiments to know for sure. No studies to date have shown anything bad happening even when a lot of NR was used in lab animal studies. I think for most healthy people, NR is safe. In August 2016, the FDA deemed Niagen Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS).
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.
Until more is known it's wise to stop taking NR at least 2 weeks before having surgery.
A small study in humans released in 2016 also has 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 the compound 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.
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 that regular exercise can:
I'm not trying to be controversial by saying this. Rather, my goal is to help some understand that there is a lesser expensive way to achieve all of thing things promised by nicotinamide riboside supplementation.
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?
Nicotinamide riboside is the source of much discussion on the internet with claims that it slows aging, improves exercise performance, helps people lose weight weight loss and and a bunch of other things. In this review, I've tried to summarize 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. Does it work? You tell me.Here's nicotinamide riboside on Amazon.