These two forms of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide are not exactly the same thing, but they’re chemically similar. It’s complicated. We’ll explain.
When you’re on your way to a new destination and you open up your phone’s GPS, a few options pop up. There are routes that avoid highways, traffic, walking, and train transfers. It’s nonsensical to go out of your way. The same goes for you.
Enter nicotinamide riboside, a form of Vitamin B that is the most efficient route to NAD+, or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, a coenzyme vital to your cellular health. Levels of NAD+ naturally fall as we get older, and researchers are curious about what this decrease means, says Joseph A. Baur, PhD, an associate professor of physiology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.
Nicotinamide riboside is often called NR for short, and it’s a precursor to NAD+, meaning it's the raw material from which your body makes NAD+ through a series of chemical transformations. But not much was known about exactly what NR did in the body until 2004, when scientists discovered that, not only is NR a precursor to NAD+ production in the body, it’s thought to be more efficient than other NAD+ precursors.
A highly efficient way to make the very molecule that has been shown to restore NAD+ levels in cells prompted scientists to research NR more carefully and, specifically, to see how we could get more of it.
How Nicotinamide Riboside Works
NR is a vitamin, an organic compound that our bodies need to complete biological functions but that we must get through diet. There are eight kinds of Vitamin Bs, and NR is a Vitamin B3 found in small amounts in foods like dairy products. NR is one of a few variations of B3; others include nicotinamide and nicotinic acid (also called niacin).
These forms of Vitamin B3 might sound familiar. You may even recognize the word ‘niacin’ from packaged foods or flours. That’s because B3 is so important that governments mandate it’s in our food. In 1940, the U.S. recommended the fortification of foods with a form of B3 in order to stave off a fatal disease called pellagra. Now, there’s international legislation for similar fortification in rice and flours.
“Nicotinamide or other vitamin B3 forms can go through multiple well-characterized reactions to get to NAD+,” Baur says.
One route essentially allows NR to become NAD+ by bypassing a step other precursors must go through. As the science world was learning about NR’s efficiencies, researchers were starting to identify how levels of NAD+ decreased as we age. These two notions triggered the idea of NR supplementation.
“In terms of timing, it was kind of a happy coincidence that the ability of NR to serve as a precursor was being recognized at the same time that people were realizing that boosting NAD+ might be a good idea,” Baur says.
The Future of Nicotinamide Riboside
We know that NAD+ levels decline with age, but it’s not clear exactly why NAD+ declines, though some scientists hypothesize it could be related to the overactivity of the NAD+-consuming enzyme CD38.
Still, it’s yet to be known whether NR yields more NAD+ or even if it becomes NAD+ faster than other precursors. However, it is thought to be a highly efficient precursor, using less energy in the body, and giving the body more energy to use elsewhere.