If there’s one fate we must all deal with, it’s aging. Aging can take different forms, depending on the individual. Some people manifest with joint problems or hearing loss while another individual might experience changes in memory or develop a high blood sugar level. Despite the different ways aging presents, it has an underlying theme – a gradual loss of function.
If you were to look deeper, you’d find that aging really begins at the cellular level. Although it’s not clear exactly how and why cells age, oxidative damage, exposure to environmental toxins, inflammation, and damage to DNA (the genetic blueprint) likely all play a role.
The question is what can you do to slow the aging process? Healthy lifestyle habits, like exercise, managing stress, getting enough sleep, and eating a whole food diet are factors that help, but not everyone is willing to do these things. That’s why scientists continue to search for anti-aging breakthroughs – a supplement or medication that would delay the aging process. Recently, there’s been a possible advance in the quest to conquer aging.
One of the theories as to why cells age relates to energy production. Inside cells are energy-producing machines called mitochondria. As we age, mitochondria become less efficient at producing ATP, the energy currency of all cells. This explains why exercise tolerance declines with age and we feel less energetic. It also partially explains why metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes becomes more common.
What is NAD?
One reason that mitochondrial energy production declines with age is because cells produce less of a compound called NAD, or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide. In fact, a drop in NAD is linked with the deterioration of the mitochondria and its function. So, why not just give people supplemental NAD to slow aging? Unfortunately, scientists discovered that this doesn’t work in mice. However, they dug deeper and found a precursor to NAD that the body naturally produces.
This NAD precursor is called NMN, or nicotinamide mononucleotide. It’s a substance found naturally in fruits and vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, avocado, edamame, and cucumbers. Encouragingly, when researchers gave NMN, the precursor to NAD, to older mice, the mice experienced less weight gain, their blood sugar level improved, and their eyesight was clearer. Plus, their immune systems worked more robustly and bone density and muscle size improved as well. The same wasn’t true of younger mice because they already make sufficient quantities of NAD and NMN.
In fact, the effects of NMN extended all the way down to the DNA inside cells. In mice, NMN blocks age-related DNA damage as well as damage caused by exposure to radiation. Researchers at Harvard discovered that low levels of NAD interfere with a cell’s ability to repair DNA damage. That’s important since this type of damage is a contributor to aging and age-related diseases, like cancer.
Is it likely that NMN will slow aging in humans? Human trials recently began, so we should