NIAGEN is the commercial name for nicotinamide riboside, (NR). While this special molecule belonging to the Vitamin B3 family is found in trace amounts in milk and other food sources, ChromaDex holds the patent for making NR in quantities not easily obtained from food sources.
What makes this molecule special is that the human body readily absorbs and converts it to another important molecule in the blood: nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD+.
NAD+ and Aging
It turns out that coenzyme NAD plays a key role in cellular metabolism. In biochemistry, the reactions that produce ATP in what is known as the Electron Transport Chain need this coenzyme to function. To put it simply, the Electron Transport Chain is a series of chemical reactions, in which electrons pass through the chain to produce ATP, which is effectively the energy currency for all living cells.
The NAD coenzyme mediates these chemical reactions by converting back and forth to and from NAD+ and NADH. The difference between the two is the presence of two more electrons in NADH. Naturally, when food is scarce, electrons are in short supply and NAD+ levels increase, while NADH levels decrease.
NAD+ increases sirtuin activity
The article on Sirtuins and Aging highlights the link between sirtuin activity levels and aging. An increase in NAD+ activates one of these vital sirtuins: SIRT1. Deficiency of SIRT1 promotes the expression of aging genes, and aging promotes further inefficiency in the Electron Transport Chain such that NADH levels remain elevated (electrons are not being utilized efficiently).
Increasing SIRT1 activity works to reverse the aging process by:
- Facilitating the repair of methylated and damaged DNA and regulating epigenetic modifications;
- Regulating cell life cycle;
- Regulating of gluconeogenesis;
- Regulating fatty acid oxidation;
- Promoting neuroprotection;
- Improving insulin response;
- Inhibiting IGF-1;
- Providing vascular protection;
- Reducing oxidative stress;
- Reducing inflammation.
Low NAD+ levels also induce a pseudohypoxic state, in which the effects are similar to hypoxia, which is basically caused by insufficient oxygen. In pseudohypoxia, the problem is not insufficient oxygen, but it is the body’s inability to mobilize oxygen efficiently that damages tissue and promotes many degenerative diseases.
It is not an accident that people report increased energy levels under a calorie restriction diet and intermittent fasting. When done properly, the body is not starved of nutrients, NAD+ increase, and SIRT1 is activated with all its concurrent benefits. Not surprisingly, nutritional ketosis also increases NAD+ and sirtuin activity.
Mimicking Calorie Restriction and Intermittent Fasting
Studies have established the effectiveness of NIAGEN at significantly raising levels of NAD+ and thereby activating SIRT1 activity. This is not the first time anti-aging science has targeted sirtuin levels as a mechanism to fight aging and metabolic syndrome. Dr. Longo’s Fasting Mimicking Diet works by introducing polyphenols and time-restricted feeding.
Polyphenols, like many other micronutrients and pharmacological interventions, can be en effective way to increase sirtuin levels. These are the underappreciated heroes of nutrition because their deficiency does not cause an immediate threat to health. To put it simply, aging is not considered a disease by the mainstream medical establishment, and these micronutrients rarely find their way on the lists of dietary guidelines adopted by authorities worldwide.
Metformin, the drug used to treat type 2 diabetes, acts by activating SIRT1. Anti-aging science has long documented evidence of this drug’s potential to increase human lifespans, but it remains outside the bounds of such application.
NAD+ Induces Weight Loss
Increased NAD+ levels improve energy metabolism in the mitochondria. As described above, the Electron Transport Chain works by transporting electrons from one chemical reaction to the next to produce ATP energy. The availability of NAD+ simply means that there is more capacity to acquire electrons and make them available for cellular energy production. The effect is to metabolize macronutrients more efficiently and increase energy levels.
This is one of the factors that contribute to the high energy levels for those of us who have experienced nutritional ketosis. As NAD+ levels increase, your fat stores are mobilized more efficiently. Your body ends up burning more fat, and you experience higher levels of physical energy and alertness.
Is there a downside to having high NAD+ levels? Yes, there are cases when higher levels of NAD+ may not be optimal, but that depends on what you want to optimize: lifespan or anaerobic physical performance. In the same way that ketosis makes high-intensity exercise more difficult, pharmacological intervention to increase NAD+ levels also have a similar effect on diminishing performance during high-intensity exercise. This can be alleviated by consuming a high carbohydrate meal before undergoing high-intensity exercise. Ideally, you want to prioritize slow-releasing carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores without risking insulin dysfunction over time. Intermittent fasting allows for the flexibility to have the benefits of both because the fasting period accelerates the onset of nutritional ketosis.
Availability of NIAGEN
ChromaDex holds the patent to produce NR in commercial quantities, and NIAGEN is its trademark for NR.
In March 2017, following the acquisition of Healthspan Research, ChromaDex shifted its licensing strategy and canceled many of the agreements it had with resellers of NIAGEN. The number of agreements with suppliers was reduced from 20 to 7, and the management indicated cutting the number of suppliers even further by next year.
Like many pharmaceutical companies with monopolistic pricing power, ChromaDex has figured out it can charge more for its patented anti-aging molecule by monopolizing the distribution under the brand TRU NIAGEN, which is already visibly more expensive than the other NIAGEN brands, despite being sourced from the same labs. While prices of TRU NIAGEN are still cheaper than trying to purify NR from milk, the price point remains out of reach for most people.
Drama and Intrigue Behind the Longevity Pill
The other well-known competitor in the anti-aging space is Elysium Health, which is backed by more than a dozen high-profile scientists, six of whom are Nobel Prize recipients and many in prominent positions in Ivy League research programs. Elysium Health markets a product called BASIS, in which the active ingredients are NR and pterostilbene, both of which happen to be sourced from ChromaDex.
Pterostilbene is another interesting compound that deserves its own article. It is a compound that works to increase sirtuin activity in the same way that resveratrol does. Resveratrol, found in red wine, is a polyphenol that was long targeted as an anti-aging supplement for its effects on cellular aging. Pterostilbene has, for the most part, replaced resveratrol as a more effective activator of sirtuins.
While Elysium Health continues to have a supply of NR, it has become entangled in a commercial dispute with ChromaDex, with the latter alleging non-payment for a large order of the compound. Elysium Health’s legal team argued there was an agreement between the two companies for a lower wholesale price.
How to Get TRU NIAGEN and BASIS Cheaply
Branding and marketing add a huge premium to what are essentially the same ingredients made by ChromaDex. A number of sellers with canceled supplier agreements continue to have residual inventory levels that were purchased wholesale from ChromaDex. So the prices of other brands remain competitive, and the supplement can still be bought at prices below the identical molecule sold under the TRU NIAGEN and BASIS brands.
NIAGEN marketed by HPN Nutraceuticals is one such legitimate source of ChromaDex’s NR that sells at a significant discount to the TRU NIAGEN and BASIS products. So far HPN has been a regular and reliable supplier, and the company has not raised its prices like others have done.
Gräff J, Kahn M, Samiei A, Gao J, Ota KT, Rei D, et al. A dietary regimen of caloric restriction or pharmacological activation of SIRT1 to delay the onset of neurodegeneration. J. Neurosci. 2013;33:8951–60.
Wang, Yi et al. “Screening SIRT1 Activators from Medicinal Plants as Bioactive Compounds against Oxidative Damage in Mitochondrial Function.” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity 2016 (2016): 4206392. PMC. Web. 22 Dec. 2017.