NAD+ has been getting a lot of press lately as a supplement that may help regenerate ageing and fatigued cells. Now, over the past few months, there has been a ton of basic science research on the NAD supplement and how it might actually help stem cells act younger. So today, I’m going to review one of these studies, this one from June of 2016 in Cell Research.
First, let’s review what NAD+ is and what it does.
What Is NAD+ and What Does It Do?
All of our cells contain a coenzyme called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). NAD+ is the oxidized form of NAD. Our natural NAD+ within our cells keeps our mitochondria healthy and keeps us youthful and energetic. Unfortunately, there is a reduction in NAD+ levels as we age. So are NAD supplements, (NAD+) promising cell regeneration and mitochondrial health, the answer to slowing the aging process and reclaiming our youth and energy? And how does it impact our stem cells, the repairmen in our body?
All of your cells have mitochondria, which act like little batteries, powering each cell. Just like with any battery, however, our mitochondria become less active or burn out as we age. This process also happens in our stem cells, and it’s believed to be one of the major driving factors behind why our stem cells slow down as we age and may not function or repair as well.
I can best explain how this mitochondrial burnout happens as we age through the analogy of a pile of unfolded laundry. The proteins (e.g., carbonic anhydrase) inside of these mitochondrial batteries get “unfolded” over time, just like the unfolded shirts in a big pile of laundry. Proteins that are unfolded don’t work optimally, and as we get older, we get more and more unfolded proteins in the mitochondrial batteries that power our cells.
So how do those proteins get folded in the first place? There is actually a machine, a mechanism, inside your cells called an unfolded protein response (UPR) that folds proteins like a dry cleaner’s machine folds shirts. Think of NAD+ as the electricity that runs the UPR machine—it’s how the whole thing gets its power. As we get older, the electricity to the UPR machine lessens, so we have more unfolded proteins added to our laundry pile. So could supplementing NAD+ turn the power back on for the UPR machine?
The Study on NAD+ and Stem Cells
In a recent study, researchers “have shown that activation of the mitochondrial unfolded protein response…through administration with an NAD+-raising compound, can rejuvenate stem cells and extend lifespan in mice.” In other words, the researchers found that by supplementing with NAD+, they were able to turn the power back on to the UPR machine in the stem cells of older animals. This resulted in more folded proteins which in turn seemed to make the stem cells work better. So with an NAD+ supplement, the stem cells of older animals actually do act younger!
The upshot? This study was on the stem cells of mice, and it remains to be seen if NAD+ is that effective with older human stem cells; however, with our advanced lab capabilities, we do plan to test this for ourselves to see if an NAD supplement might be helpful for our patients.