I wanted to talk about something that appears to be gaining traction, but I haven’t been asked about yet.
According to Forbes magazine, one of the top health trends of this year is something called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, abbreviated NAD.
I learned about NAD when I had to study biochemistry as a nutrition student. But, since then, it hasn’t really come up all that much. None of my patients or clients have ever asked me about it.
But the author of this Forbes magazine article claimed that we should “make sure to make NAD supplementation a priority in [our] health and wellness routine.”
I didn’t appreciate this bold statement. To make this sort of claim that everyone needs to be taking a particular supplement regardless of who they are and their lifestyle and health history is a bit shortsighted. I moved on and thought nothing more of it.
However, just the other day, I happened to hear NAD mentioned again on a podcast I happened to be listening to. This time, I thought, “OK, maybe it’s time I address this before it gets anymore traction.” So, here we go…
What is NAD?
First, what is NAD and why should we care?
Again, NAD is short for this long, fancy sounding compound: nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide.
While it sounds really fancy, it’s actually just a type of B-vitamin.
I’m sure you’ve heard of other B-vitamins, like niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B-12, and so on.
Think of NAD as niacin’s cousin. When we look at the functions of NAD, we find that like most vitamins, it helps keep the cells in our bodies functioning properly and helps to make sure the body is effectively converting the foods we eat into energy.
But, again, that’s the function of most vitamins.
What does NAD do?
In the case of NAD, it is believed that it has a special function within the cell: it helps keep the cell energized. Bear with me here, I’ll explain.
Buried inside many of our bodies’ cells are these energy-producing factories. Think of it like your local electric company — you know, the one supplying electricity to your home. These electric companies within our cells are called mitochondria.
So, what do mitochondria have to do with NAD? Well, remember we said that NAD helps convert some of the food we eat to energy, just like most vitamins? It turns out that NAD is the one that specifically provides energy to the mitochondria, or electric companies, within our cells. So, the question is, if we make less NAD as we age, who’s going to supply energy to our cells’ electric companies? Is this something we need to be concerned about?
Well, there are supplement manufacturers that believe we should be very concerned about this. Which is why this idea of supplementing with NAD is becoming more and more popular.
The particular form of NAD that supplement manufacturers are hoping you buy is called nicotinamide riboside. That’s because nicotinamide riboside helps the body make more NAD.
Unfortunately, when we look at the data, we don’t know really know if supplementing with nicotinamide riboside does anything at all. In fact, most of the studies were performed in mice.
Unfortunately, these mice studies are what many supplement manufacturers refer to when discussing the health benefits of this supplement. There have been a handful of human studies, but they only included a very small sample (less than 50 participants) and over a short period of time (3 months or less). More importantly, though, is that there is some concern that increasing the amount of NAD in the body through supplementation may increase a person’s risk for developing cancer. In fact, some researchers believe that reducing the amount of NAD in the body may be a way to treat cancer.
So, here’s my bottom line: if you hear or read about NAD or nicotinamide ribose as the next big thing, ignore it for now. Let’s wait until scientists are able to study this more thoroughly.
If you are concerned that you need more energy for your cells, we have to go back to the basics: consume a balanced diet that contains mostly whole, unprocessed foods would be the ideal.
Oh, and you can make your cells’ electric companies even larger and more efficient by exercising regularly, too.