The Anti-Ageing Pill
Some of the main culprits of ageing include telomere shortening, DNA damage and mitochdonrial decay.
To save you googling, telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces. Without the coating, shoelaces become frayed and useless, just as without the protection from telomeres, our cells age and die. It reminds me of a bomb fuse!
Mitochondria are the batteries of our cells. They take in nutrients to produce energy rich molecules for the cell through a process known as respiration to regulate cellular metabolism.
To cut a very long story short, a molecule called NAD+ (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) contributes to mitochondrial decay, maintaining the length of telomeres and DNA damage repair activity. Hence its been dubbed the molecule of youth.
Sadly NAD+ levels steadily decline with age resulting in altered metabolism and increased disease susceptibility. By age of 50 you may have only half the NAD+ you did in your youth and by age 80, only 1% to 10% is left. Low NAD+ is not only associated with accelerated ageing but also fatigue, weight gain, cardiovascular disease and impaired brain function. Researchers have found that restoring NAD+ levels in old mice causes them to look and act younger, as well as extend lifespan.
The good news, you can boost your NAD+ levels naturally. Factors that make the mitochondria more efficient and activate a class of enzymes called Sirtuins (these turn off certain genes that promote ageing) typically increase NAD+. These factors include fasting, caloric restriction, ketosis and exercise.
Not surprisingly, there is major competition to create an effective supplement or drug to boost NAD+ and thereby mimic exercise and calorie restriction. Two high profile research groups believe they are getting closer.
One research group is led by David Sinclair from Harvard. In a March 2017 study published in the journal Science, Sinclair and his colleagues fed a compound known to raise levels of NAD+ to a group of elderly mice. Within a couple hours, the NAD+ levels in the mice had risen significantly. In about a week, signs of ageing in the tissue and muscles of the older mice reversed to the point that researchers could no longer tell the difference between the tissues of a 2-year-old mouse and those of a 4-month-old one. Sinclair is currently formulating a pill that could be prescribed by a doctor or purchased over the counter.
The second research group is from a MIT based startup called Elysium Health, cofounded by Sinclair’s former mentor Lenny Guarente. They conducted a randomized control trial (published November 2017 in the journal Nature) and found that people who took a daily supplement containing NAD+ precursors had a substantial, sustained increase in their NAD+ levels over a two-month period. The anti-ageing effects of the supplement still remain to be tested in humans. Elysium is already selling the supplement used in the study, called Basis. Its worth mentioning that eight Nobel laureates are on the company’s scientific advisory board. Why Nobel laureates would attach their names to a supplement without much human research behind it confounds me. The main ingredient in Basis is Nicotinamide Riboside. This compound is not patented and is available to purchase from several different brands. the only unique selling point I see is the number of nobel laureates on Elysium’s board.
So is NAD+ just a fad? Well if I was a mouse I would immediately make a bulk purchase order of Basis but until convincing human clinic data is shown I will put my pennies elsewhere. Elysium is currently conducting clinical trial of the supplement so we may not have to wait much longer.