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How NAD+ Helps Keep Your DNA Healthy

NAD+ is essential to the creation of energy in the body and the regulation of pivotal cellular processes — including maintaining healthy DNA. Here's how it works.

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NAD+, or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, is a critical coenzyme found in every cell in your body, and it’s involved in maintaining hundreds of integral processes. But NAD+ levels decline with age, which is why scientists have taken an interest in the potential benefits of increasing NAD+ levels. What’s so important about NAD+? In general, there are two sets of reactions in the human body that depend on it: helping turn nutrients into cellular energy as a key player in metabolism and working as a helper molecule for proteins that regulate other cellular functions. Both of these sets of reactions are critical for maintaining healthy DNA — but especially the second one.

Your Genome In Action

Before understanding how NAD+ is involved in maintaining healthy DNA, it’s important to understand how all of our DNA — referred to collectively as the “genome” — works inside the cell. Our DNA is the blueprint for life, carrying all the genetic information necessary for cells to function. Our genes are made up of DNA, and nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. This includes roughly three billion nucleotide bases, represented by scientists as A, C, G, and T (adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine). These nucleotides form “base pairs” — C to G, A to T — and are arrayed across roughly 20,000 genes, or long strands of DNA base pairs of varying lengths, which code for proteins; genes are split up among 23 pairs of chromosomes. Our genome is organized into incredibly long strands that take the form of a double helix, which looks like a twisted ladder with matching base pairs forming the “rungs” of the ladder.

If that’s the basic structure of the DNA, it’s the dynamic process of actually using that DNA that gives rise to growth, development, and day-to-day function as a human (or any other organism) — taking us from a blueprint for life to life itself. Our DNA is constantly being scanned and translated into proteins (with the help of RNA) to meet all the needs of life: for the function of our skin, liver, eyes, heart, brain, and so on. This ongoing process of reading the DNA to ultimately create the necessary proteins for life is incredibly intricate, and it actually involves separating the double helix (the ladder) so the information inside can be read, and then putting it back together. As you might imagine, this process requires lots of coordination on the cellular level to get it right.

The Critical Role of NAD+

This is where NAD+ comes in. As one of the most essential coenzymes found in every cell of the body, NAD+ plays an important role in keeping the intricate process of turning the DNA blueprint into all the proteins that make life possible, day after day, without mistakes that could lead to problems. How does it do that? This brings us back to the second category of processes we described earlier, in which NAD+ partners with certain proteins that regulate cellular functions. Two of those proteins are called sirtuins and PARPs. Both require NAD+ to function, and both act as quality control workers in a genome that functions properly.

One specific way sirtuins work, for example, is by controlling when DNA is tightly wound around proteins called histones, and when it’s loosely wound around the histones. Whether the DNA is tight or loose is important because DNA can be read and translated into useful proteins when it’s loosely wound, but it’s also vulnerable in that position — so the right balance of tight and loose, open and closed, is essential. Sirtuins keep that process highly regulated, helping to maintain healthy DNA. And sirtuins, like PARPs, only function if they have sufficient NAD+.

“And sirtuins, like PARPs, only function if they have sufficient NAD+.”

With such complex machinery inside every one of our cells, there isn’t a magic bullet for maintaining cellular health. But scientists are increasingly finding that some molecules play an outsized role in supporting the processes of life. NAD+ is one of those, from creating the cellular energy that powers our metabolism to maintaining healthy DNA. As we know, NAD+ declines with age — and that’s why healthy NAD+ levels are important for maintaining hundreds of integral processes in our cells.

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