A dietary supplement available in New Zealand from this week could keep the effects of ageing at bay and help people live healthy energetic lives for longer.
Tru Niagen went on sale this week, making New Zealand the fourth country to have access to the vitamin supplement which claims to help "fuel your body and promote healthy ageing".
But, an Otago University biochemist warned more research was needed to substantiate claims of anti-ageing and improved heart function.
Professor Charles Brenner from the University of Iowa discovered a rare form of vitamin B3 called nicotinomide riboside (NR) which he says can help counter the physical effects of metabolic stress like neurodegenerative conditions, heart failure and ageing skin.
NR, which is sold under the brand name Tru Niagen, raises the levels of NAD in the body. NAD is a molecule which is found in every living cell. It is the central controller of metabolism and converts the food we eat into energy.
David Sinclair, co-director of the Paul F Glenn Center for the Biology of Ageing at Harvard Medical School who was working to produce a similar pill, told Time NAD was the "closest we've gotten to the fountain of youth".
High levels of NAD allow our cells to function at their best but as we age, levels decline.
Brenner, who was in Auckland this week launching the product, said the amount of NAD in our bodies began to drop from about the age of 20 but the natural decline could speed up anytime we ate too much, drank too much, worked too much, stayed in the sun for too long, didn't sleep well, or got sick.
Until recently that decline was thought to be irreversible, but Brenner's research had shown NR could lift the level of NAD in cells giving them more energy to carry out their roles including repairing DNA and producing energy.
Brenner did not claim the supplement would help people live longer but he believed it may be able to help people stay healthier and more active in their later years.
"NAD has a role in wellness at every stage," he told the Herald. "It supports cellular function from the inside out.
"It's not intended to treat a disease or condition. It's a wellness product but there are lots of reports of sleeping better, recovering from exercise better, going through winter without colds and recovering from scratches and bruises better."
The company said hair and nails had been reported to grow more quickly while others noticed a reduction in skin pigmentation, fine lines and rough skin because skin cells were better able to repair themselves.
Biochemist at Otago University's Christchurch department of pathology and biomedical science Christine Winterbourn said there was evidence NAD levels declined with age and published studies, some carried out by Brenner himself, showed NR was a precursor to NAD and, when taken as a supplement, could increase its levels.
But, she believed more studies were needed to prove what effects increased NAD levels could have.
"There's still work to be done on whether it slows down ageing or improve heart function," she said. "Which isn't to say I'm critical of people taking it but don't expect dramatic anti-ageing effects."
There was a trend of people in the nutri-supplements area reporting feeling better which was "well and good", she said, "but without a controlled trial it's hard to know whether this is a placebo effect".
Brenner said there were many scientific trials underway to determine exactly what the benefits including a study on cognitive function, mood and sleep in older adults. Other studies had indicated it could help control blood pressure and fatty liver disease but more research was needed, he said.
About Tru Niagen?
• Tru Niagen is the brand name for nicotinomide riboside (NR) which is a rare form of vitamin B3.
• NR is found in certain foods, such as milk, but not in the quantity required to sustainably lift NAD levels. Drinking 300L of milk would only give you the equivalent amount of NR as there is in one 250mg Tru Niagen capsule.
• Chromadex, which owns Tru Niagen, claims it can slow ageing and improve heart function.
• Tru Niagen has been recognised as safe by the US Food and Drug Administration but does not need approval to be sold in New Zealand as it is a supplement rather than a drug. In Australia it is going through the approval process with the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
• A bottle of 60 capsules sells for $59.95. The recommended dose is two capsules a day.