9 Surprising Ways Your Body Uses NAD
Researchers have good reason to believe NAD might be the key to healthy aging.
It’s strange to say a molecule is getting “press,” but that’s exactly what’s happening to NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) in publications ranging from Wired to Shape. NAD (pronounced en-aye-dee) is an essential molecule found in every living cell. Although biochemists have known about this critical coenzyme since 1906, they didn’t focus on studying it because NAD was found in so many places in the body. They also didn’t know NAD declines with age. Now the fact that we lose NAD over time, and that it's involved in so many different processes is precisely why some of world’s leading neuroscientists, biochemists, and researchers are paying attention to it.
Most of this research is in animals. But here are just some of the ways we know NAD is involved in our body’s functions.
1. NAD and Aging
Out of all the factors that require NAD, aging is probably the most significant and least avoidable. By age 60, a person’s NAD levels are approximately half of what they were in their 40s. This is simply because our cells make NAD, and as we age our bodies can’t replace the cells that die as quickly with new ones. But even if we’re still young and healthy, everything listed below may contribute to this age-related decline in NAD as well.
2. NAD and Alcohol
Whether you get your buzz out of grapes, barley, potatoes, or molasses, all alcohol is created from sugar. For our bodies to process that after-hours beverage, the alcohol must first be detoxified by enzymes that require NAD to function. NAD is involved in two steps of this process: first to detoxify the alcohol into sugar, and then to help that sugar turn into energy.
3. NAD and Fat
One of NAD’s most essential functions is energy metabolism. Our cells use NAD to turn the food (and drinks) we consume into the energy we need to stay healthy. NAD does this by turning into the hydrogen-carrying version of itself (NADH) which aids in burning fats and proteins in the cell.
4. NAD and Carbs
NAD also turns into NADH to help convert carbs into energy. This is because it plays an important role in glycolysis, the cycle by which our bodies convert sugars into energy.
5. NAD and Sleep
The production of NAD is one of the many biological processes in our bodies that follows a circadian rhythm. Energy metabolism, hormone regulation, and body temperature variations all rely on a 24-hour cycle as well. NAD helps regulate circadian rhythms, keeping them all in sync and working at their best. Which is a good thing because misaligned circadian rhythms lead to things like jet lag and sleep deprivation.
6. NAD and Sunlight
We’ve known for years that too much sun can definitely be a bad thing. But one of the reasons why that’s true is because of NAD. Our cells use NAD to help activate sirtuin proteins and to create the cellular energy needed for responding to long-term sun exposure.
7. NAD and Muscles
Strenuous exercise requires NAD for muscle recovery, while mice studies show that moderate or light exercise can actually increase NAD levels.
8. NAD and Sitting
Even someone living a sedentary lifestyle requires NAD for basic biological functions like eating, sleeping, and breathing.
9. NAD and Breathing
While our bodies need oxygen, the metabolism of oxygen can sometimes affect other parts of a cell through an imbalance known as oxidative stress. Since NADPH is an important part of the body’s defense against oxidative stress, oxygen metabolism depletes NADPH. There’s not much you can do to prevent this—after all, you can’t stop breathing.
With NAD being involved in so many processes in our bodies, it’s easy to understand why scientists couldn’t really factor it into their research early on. But now that they can safely increase and measure NAD levels, they’re looking into just how many ways this one molecule could improve human health, especially in older adults.
An Easy Way To Boost NAD
One unique form of vitamin B3, nicotinamide riboside (NR), is proven to boost NAD levels. It holds an edge over its B3 brothers, because of something called a pathway. A pathway is the string of steps used to create a compound, in this case, NAD.
NR uses a unique pathway to produce NAD that none of the other vitamin B3s use. NR is also like the motivational speaker of the cellular world. When NR gets to work in mitochondria, it helps form NAD and gives the anti-aging “sirtuin” proteins a pep talk. These sirtuins then work overtime to help cells stay strong as we age.
Staying healthy as we age will never be as simple as one vitamin. Even with one as promising as NR. There are over 100 studies looking into NR, with many showing that increased NAD levels are tied to neural and muscular health in mice. There are even more studies underway surrounding the positive effects of NAD levels on other age-related health problems including fatty liver disease, weight gain, insulin levels, and brain function in mice.
With six completed human trials, and 11 more underway, it’s only a matter of time before we know whether the benefits of this one simple vitamin could reach far beyond those of an average "anti-aging" supplement.