Every year, Americans spend billions of dollars on anti-aging products.
While most anti-aging products try to reverse signs of aging on your skin, nicotinamide riboside — also called niagen — aims to reverse signs of aging from inside your body.
Within your body, nicotinamide riboside is converted into NAD+, a helper molecule that exists inside each of your cells and supports many aspects of healthy aging.
This article explains everything you need to know about nicotinamide riboside, including its benefits, side effects and dosage.
What Is Nicotinamide Riboside?
Nicotinamide riboside, or niagen, is an alternative form of vitamin B3, also called niacin.
Like other forms of vitamin B3, nicotinamide riboside is converted by your body into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), a coenzyme or helper molecule.
- Converting food into energy
- Repairing damaged DNA
- Fortifying cells’ defense systems
- Setting your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm
However, the amount of NAD+ in your body naturally falls with age (3).
Low NAD+ levels have been linked to health concerns like aging and chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and vision loss (1).
Nicotinamide riboside supplements — such as niagen — have quickly become popular because they appear to be especially effective at raising NAD+ levels (7).
Summary Nicotinamide riboside, or niagen, is an alternative form of vitamin B3. It is promoted as an anti-aging supplement because it boosts your body’s levels of NAD+, which acts as fuel for many key biological processes.
Because most research on nicotinamide riboside and NAD+ comes from animal studies, no clear-cut conclusions can be made about its effectiveness for humans.
That said, here are some potential health benefits of nicotinamide riboside.
Easily Converted Into NAD+
NAD+ is a coenzyme, or helper molecule, that takes part in many biological reactions.
One way to raise NAD+ levels is to consume NAD+ precursors — the building blocks of NAD+ — such as nicotinamide riboside.
Animal studies show that nicotinamide riboside raises blood NAD+ levels by up to 2.7 times. What’s more, it’s more readily used by your body than other NAD+ precursors (7).
Activates Enzymes That May Promote Healthy Aging
Nicotinamide riboside helps increase NAD+ levels in your body.
In response, NAD+ activates certain enzymes that may promote healthy aging.
One group is sirtuins, which appear to improve lifespan and overall health in animals. Studies indicate that sirtuins may repair damaged DNA, boost stress resistance, reduce inflammation and offer other benefits that promote healthy aging (9, 10, 11).
Sirtuins are also responsible for the lifespan-extending benefits of calorie restriction (12).
May Help Protect Brain Cells
NAD+ plays a key role in helping your brain cells age well.
Within brain cells, NAD+ helps control the production of PGC-1-alpha, a protein that appears to help protect cells against oxidative stress and impaired mitochondrial function (15).
In mice with Alzheimer’s disease, nicotinamide riboside raised brain NAD+ levels and PGC-1-alpha production by up to 70% and 50%, respectively. By the end of the study, the mice performed significantly better in memory-based tasks (4).
In a test-tube study, nicotinamide riboside raised NAD+ levels and significantly improved mitochondrial function in stem cells taken from a Parkinson’s disease patient (19).
However, it’s still not clear how helpful it is to raise NAD+ levels in people with age-related brain disorders. More human studies are needed.
May Lower Heart Disease Risk
Aging is a major risk factor for heart disease, which is the world’s leading cause of death (20).
It can cause blood vessels like your aorta to become thicker, stiffer and less flexible.
Such changes can raise blood pressure levels and make your heart work harder.
In animals, raising NAD+ helped reverse age-related changes to arteries (21).
In humans, nicotinamide riboside raised NAD+ levels, helped reduce stiffness in the aorta and lowered systolic blood pressure in adults at risk of high blood pressure (22).
That said, more human research is needed.
Other Potential Benefits
In addition, nicotinamide riboside may provide several other benefits:
- May aid weight loss: Nicotinamide riboside helped speed up the metabolism of mice. However, it’s unclear whether it would have the same effect in humans and how strong this effect really is (23).
- May lower cancer risk: High NAD+ levels help protect against DNA damage and oxidative stress, which are linked to cancer development (24, 25).
- May help treat jet lag: NAD+ helps regulate your body’s internal clock, so taking niagen may help treat jet lag or other circadian rhythm disorders by resetting your body’s internal clock (26).
- May promote healthy muscle aging: Raising NAD+ levels helped improve muscle function, strength and endurance in older mice (5, 27).
Summary Nicotinamide riboside boosts levels of NAD+, which is linked to potential health benefits regarding aging, brain health, heart disease risk and more.
Potential Risks and Side Effects
Nicotinamide riboside is likely safe with few — if any — side effects.
However, most human studies are short in duration and have very few participants. For a more accurate idea of its safety, more robust human studies are needed.
In animals, taking 300 mg per kg of body weight (136 mg per pound) daily for 90 days had no harmful effects (31).
What’s more, unlike vitamin B3 (niacin) supplements, nicotinamide riboside should not cause facial flushing (31).
Summary Nicotinamide riboside appears to be safe with few side effects. However, its long-term effects in humans are still relatively unknown.