A new study from researchers at the Weill Cornell Medical College and the Swiss Polytechnic School in Lausanne reveals that a unique form of vitamin B3 that occurs in small quantities in milk produces substantial health benefits in high doses in mice.

According to the June issue of Cell Metabolism, high doses of the niacin-related vitamin precursor nicotinamide riboside (NR) prevent obesity in mice that have been fed a fatty diet. Furthermore, it increases muscle performance and energy expenditure, whilst preventing the development of diabetes development without any side effects.

The mouse experiment was designed by research leader Dr. Johan Auwerx and his Swiss team, whilst the team from Weill Cornell Medical College, who played leading role in uncovering the biological story of NR, found a method to administer sufficient doses of NR to the animals.

Dr. Anthony Sauve, a pharmacologist and organic chemist and associate professor of Pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medical College, remarked: “This study is very important. It shows that in animals, the use of NR offers the health benefits of a low-calorie diet and exercise – without doing either one.”

Dr. Sauve, a pioneer and leader in investigating how NAD can signal adaptation in cells and in physiology, invented a simple method to efficiently synthesize NR on a large scale, was the first scientist to demonstrate that NR elevates nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) levels in mammalian cells. NAD plays a key role in energy metabolism.

He states:

“The research also suggests that the effects of NR could be even broader. The bottom line is that NR improves the function of mitochondria, the cell’s energy factories. Mitochondrial decline is the hallmark of many diseases associated with aging, such as cancer and neurodegeneration, and NR supplementation boosts mitochondrial functioning.”

According to the Swiss team, NR is a “hidden vitamin”, which is thought to occur in low levels in numerous foods, even though it is difficult to measure these levels. Overall, the researchers call the metabolic effects of NR “nothing short of astonishing.”

The study was based on a number of key discoveries made by Dr. Sauve and his team. The first time NR and other common forms of vitamin B3 were researched, was over 6 decades ago by a Stanford researcher and Arthur Kornberg, the 1959 Nobel Laureate. Research made no further advances into the effects of NR in mammals until Dr. Sauve’s key discovery, which revealed that NR stimulates NAD levels in mammalian cells and that it can stimulate NAD-dependent sirtuins that allow sugars, fats and proteins to be converted into energy, adapting physiology to low calorie diets known to extend the lifespan of numerous organisms. The findings were published in 2007 as well as in the current study.

Dr. Sauve designed a fairly simple method to synthesize NR efficiently in large scales to study its health benefits, which was patented by Cornell’s Center for Technology Enterprise and Commercialization and later licensed to ChromaDex Corporation to make NR commercially available.

Sauve and his team enabled the study to go ahead by providing the means to synthesize NR in appropriate quantities, as biological observations on the effects that NR have on NAD levels in cells and on mitochondria were vital to the study. Sauve’s lab, which is known for its expertise in measuring NAD metabolism in cell tissues, designed the latest analytical methods to establish NAD levels in cells, tissues and organelles. Sauve’s laboratory provided numerous key metabolic measurements for the study and Sauve comments: “Our published scientific work has verified that NR is perhaps the most potent NAD enhancing agent ever identified.”

Utilizing Sauve’s designs, the Swiss researchers discovered that mice fed on a high-fat diet that were given NR gained 60% less weight compared with mice fed the same diet without NR, even though both groups of mice were fed the same amount of food.

The team noted that the mice that were given NR showed improved energy levels and were fitter with substantially better endurance and stronger muscles than the mice who did not receive NR. Furthermore, the team observed that in contrast to the non-treated mice, none of the treated mice developed diabetes and that NR treated mice improved sensitivity to insulin when fed a normal diet and had lower cholesterol levels. None of these benefits led to any side effects. Even though the new study reveals that high NR doses can prevent negative health consequences of poor diets on a large scale in mice, Dr. Sauve points out that the effects of high doses of the NR vitamin in humans has not been assessed.

He concludes:

“It is important to keep in mind that the amount of NR in milk and other foods appears to be small. We don’t know what effects NR would have in humans at relatively high doses. Still, we have very encouraging evidence of benefits of NR and NAD augmentation in general from this animal study – and much more work to do.”

Written By Petra Rattue