The future of NAD and its impacts on human health care begin with learning how to get more of it.
Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about our cells. You may remember from an early biology class that cells are the “building blocks of life.” They are the smallest form of life capable of replicating themselves and carrying out essential functions in living organisms. All of our energy, our immunity, our sense of comfort, and well-being begins with our cells.
In spite of all that, most people don’t even think about their cellular health until things start to go wrong. We feel tired faster, find physical activity more difficult, notice our sleep patterns change, and that our skin doesn't look quite as young as it used to.
Modern science, however, has taught us that getting older doesn't have to feel that way. It's common knowledge now that eating healthy, finding a good exercise routine, getting a good night's rest, and quitting smoking can all encourage our overall health at any age. But there is still a lot more that can be done, and it all starts with our cells.
Why We Need NAD
One way to keep cells healthy is to give them what they need to function properly. And one of the most important ways of doing that, is with a coenzyme called NAD (pronounced en-aye-dee). This molecule may be famous within the scientific community for supercharging our cells, but very few people outside of those specific fields even know what NAD is.
Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) is a coenzyme discovered over 100 years ago by scientists studying fermentation. NAD does two essential things in the cell. First, it aids in the process of turning nutrients into energy—a crucial part of cellular metabolism and the beginning of every energy-driven process in our bodies. Second, NAD is known to boost the activity of sirtuins, an essential protein used by the cell. Sirtuins are credited as the key to life expectancy because when they are active and working hard, they help support healthy DNA.
NAD may be critical to our bodies, but the best things in life usually come in limited supply. NAD levels lower as we age and our mitochondrial functions decline as a result. There are a lot of studies right now that find evidence of a direct link between lower NAD levels and the health-related problems of aging in mice. Mice aren’t people, obviously, but such promising findings help guide future research in humans.
So if we know that NAD is essential to human survival, and that aging and the basic stresses of life cause us to produce less of it, the goal is to figure out how to get more of it. Luckily, we know which steps are required to produce NAD in our bodies and it's much easier than we thought.
How Precursors Help Increase NAD
Producing NAD is as easy as giving our bodies the precursors that aid in its formation. A precursor is a compound that participates in a chemical reaction that leads to the formation of another compound. It’s a collaborator and a sort of catalyst that is, in itself, part of the end product. For instance, radio is a precursor to television. You can have radio without television, but you can’t have television without using the elements that make radio work. Similarly, there are specific precursors to NAD that react within a cell to cause NAD production. Precursors that a person can even presumably seek out and use as supplements to increase NAD levels.
First up are the B3 vitamins. Yes, there are plenty of B vitamins, each providing benefits to the body, but the vitamins that form the B3 complex family are the ones responsible for increasing NAD levels. However, there are three different forms of the B3 vitamin and each produces NAD with varying degrees of success.
First, there is niacin (nicotinic acid), also known as NA. This was the earliest form of B3 discovered and for many years was the go-to vitamin for high cholesterol. Unfortunately, as a supplement, niacin can cause an uncomfortable skin flush. Plus, niacin is only a NAD precursor in some tissues, not all of them.
Nicotinamide (aka niacinamide or NAM) is the second of the B3s and is also a precursor to NAD. It does not cause the skin flush, but it can react negatively with sirtuins, known as the “longevity genes,” causing them to slow down the all-too-good work they do.
The third B3 vitamin is nicotinamide riboside or NR. NR boasts the double whammy of being the only B3 vitamin to be a NAD precursor in every cell it encounters, and also has no known negative side effects like the skin flush. NR also gets along great with sirtuins, giving it even more of an edge over the competition, because it increases NAD and supplies sirtuins with the energy they need to support healthy DNA.
Other technical precursors to NAD are tryptophan (yes, the sleep-inducing amino acid found in your Thanksgiving turkey) and nicotinamide mononucleotide, or NMN. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that aids in the production of niacin, which is a NAD precursor. However, the process that needs to occur for tryptophan to produce niacin is long and drawn out, making tryptophan a less effective pathway to NAD creation. NMN is a nucleotide derived from ribose and nicotinamide and is undergoing tests for its efficacy in increasing NAD levels in humans.
Other Ways to Increase NAD
Of course, our bodies naturally produce NAD in a variety of ways. Eating certain foods, exercising, and even fasting are some of the natural ways to increase NAD. But sun exposure, excessive food intake, and alcohol consumption are just some of the many reasons most adults find themselves lacking in NAD.
NAD or Bust
No matter which pathway or which precursor is used, the science is clear: NAD levels are vital to long-term health. We’re living longer now than ever before and in a world where life spans have increased, focusing on how to improve that quality of life is essential. It’s extraordinary and encouraging to find that when it comes to aging better, we are much more empowered now than we were just a few years ago. Now that we've identified the pathways to increasing NAD production, we're no longer at the mercy of our bodies’ declining output of this critical molecule. Anyone bold enough to use this knowledge and provide their bodies with the necessary supplements can fight back against aging.