Is NAD+ the Key to Anti-Aging?
“Anti-aging” is a big business with an enormous amount of skepticism. Several products attest they’ve found the real “fountain of youth,” but there’s little science behind these products to prove their claims.
“Anti-aging” labels ultimately leave people wondering if it’s real or just another scam?
Aging is an irreversible process. There are no creams or serums that can bring your cells back to their youthful beginnings.
But aging science is not all bad news. The research behind the way we age has taken measurable steps worth noting. Instead of focusing on reversing the aging process, modern science delivers a progression towards healthy aging.
And nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD+, is a molecule that holds great promise in the healthy aging conversation.
What is NAD+?
NAD+ is an essential coenzyme in all living cells, involved in several critical biological processes such as cellular energy production and cell repair.
If enzymes are the catalysts, NAD+ is the spark plug.
NAD+ sparks mechanisms that generate 90% of the body's energy. It also activates several repair enzymes, helping patch the damage from everyday wear and tear.
Without NAD+, our body would come to a grinding halt.
How does NAD+ help generate energy?
NAD+ acts as an energy-starter molecule, helping spin the turbines of our microscopic generators, otherwise known as the mitochondria.
Mitochondria are vitally important as they act as the central power hub for all operations in the cell. Scientists often give them the moniker the "powerhouse of the cell."
If mitochondria fail to churn energy, the complex systems that make human life possible would no longer function.
The mitochondria may tell us how aging starts.
Scientists have often looked to the mitochondria in aging research.
The logic follows the idea that if the mitochondria are the source of all cellular energy, any malfunction or reduction of power may be the reason all cellular functions gradually deteriorate.
And a decline in cell function is what we know as aging.
This theory is often called the mitochondrial free radical theory of aging, or MFRTA.
The science behind MFRTA was compelling enough for a team of researchers to list mitochondrial dysfunction as one of the nine hallmarks of aging. And NAD's role in the mitochondria's energy efficiency is why NAD+ has become closely aligned with aging research.
What is the mitochondrial free radical theory of aging (MFRTA)?
A widely reviewed explanation in scientific circles, MFRTA proposes that the accumulation of damage from free radicals is the main driving force in aging.
MFRTA is different from the more basic free radical theory of aging, or RFTA because it posits the mitochondria as the chief target for cellular decline.
The theory outlines that the damage to the mitochondria from these free radicals is far more severe, pointing the finger specifically to mitochondrial dysfunction as a marker for aging.
Given that they produce most free radicals in the cell, their proximity to the problem creates a vicious circle.
Analogically, the mitochondria are “creating the poison that inevitably kills them.”
Mitochondria are also unique in that they have their own DNA called mtDNA. And mtDNA is not as well protected compared to nucleic DNA, making them more susceptible to damage.
NAD+ supports another important mechanism: cell repair.
NAD+ doesn’t just help catalyze energy generation in the mitochondria. NAD+ is also a vital resource for DNA repair, helping fuel the repair enzyme PARP-1.
An article published in Molecular Biology of the Cell illustrates NAD’s importance in PARP-1’s response to DNA damage.
DNA damage directly correlates to genomic instability, one of the hallmarks of aging.
But PARP-1 isn’t the only NAD-consuming enzyme that is critical for the functioning of your DNA. Sirtuins, a class of proteins that help regulate gene expression, are NAD-hungry as well.
Research shows NAD+ declines with age.
A study published in PLOS One by Hassina Massudi and a team of researchers from the University of New South Wales presented data that NAD+ levels decline as you age, particularly past the age of 40.
Massudi and the team indicated that the depletion of NAD+ might play a role in the aging process; a conclusion arrived by observing patterns between age and biological activity around how the body responds to oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress occurs in the body when there’s an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants.
Free radicals, in their nature, are highly reactive oxygen species (ROS). Typically, our body has enough antioxidants to counter them, but there are times when they get to be too much to handle, thus “stressing” the body.
With oxidative stress, DNA damage typically follows. And as noted in the nine hallmarks of aging, DNA damage generally is the first domino to fall that causes age-related changes in the body.
How did Massudi and her team connect NAD+ to aging?
Massudi and her researchers measured lipid peroxidation, a form of oxidative stress. They found that the subjects of older age had significantly higher levels of lipid peroxidation, indicating people of older age may have a higher level of oxidative stress than people of younger age.
Also, the study measured PARP activity to see the body’s response levels to oxidative damage. PARPs are like the firefighters of the cell. When you see their numbers increase, you know the “fire” is somewhere close.
The study showed higher PARP activity in the older cohorts, meaning their cells had more “fires” to put out in the body.
Considering PARP-1 enzymes consume a considerable amount of NAD+, it’s not surprising to see that the study observed NAD+ levels in older cohorts were much lower than their younger counterparts.
“An extensive body of evidence has demonstrated the importance of oxidative stress in its contribution to the aging process. This study reports for the first time a link between oxidative stress and PARP activity, aging, and a decline in NAD+ levels, in human tissue.”
The passage of time does not age us. It’s the stress we put on our bodies.
Massudi and her team’s research suggests how we manage our oxidative stress can impact aging.
If you can manage your health so that your body experiences less oxidative stress, your cells will have a better time repairing age-inducing DNA damage.
But to keep your oxidative stress levels in check, your body may require significant changes in your lifestyle. Alcohol consumption, poor diet, sleep deprivation, and excess sun exposure are all stressors that can raise our oxidative stress levels.
A healthy diet and routine exercise are the most significant changes you can make in your daily life. But NAD+ supplements can give you an added boost to ensure you stock your cells with the resources needed to maintain cell resilience.