Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide, more commonly known as NAD, is a molecule found in every cell in the human body, and in every living thing. In fact, it’s so important that we would quickly die without it. So how do we nurture our stores of NAD? And what is the difference between NAD, NAD+, and NAD boosters? It might all sound a bit complicated, but we’ve broken it all down for you here.
What is NAD?
Although NAD was first identified over 100 years ago, it wasn’t until much later in the 20th century that scientists discovered just how crucial it is. That’s because NAD plays a vital role in a number of the body’s biological processes, including:
- Extracting energy and nutrients from the food (metabolism)
- Strengthening the immune defense system
- Regulating the circadian rhythm (body clock)
- Repairing damage to DNA
All these processes require energy. NAD comes into play because it helps to deliver that energy to cells around the body as and when they need it. It is also NAD’s ability to make energy more readily available that has made it a popular supplement with athletes.
NAD+? NADH? What’s the Difference?
The easiest way to understand how NAD works in the body is to think of it as a tiny courier that delivers packages of energy between cells. These energy packages are called hydrides, so when NAD is carrying a hydride it is called NADH. When NAD is not carrying an energy package (when its delivery van is empty), it has a positive charge, which explains the “+” in NAD+. NAD is used as a general term to describe the molecule in both states.
Because cells need the energy that NAD provides to function, a lack of NAD can cause serious health problems. Low NAD levels have been linked to a number of acute and chronic diseases, including metabolic problems, neurodegenerative diseases, and age-related health conditions. Altzheimers, vision loss, heart disease, and diabetes are all linked to depleted NAD stores. As a result, understanding how to restore and maintain levels of NAD in the body is key to treating these conditions.
What Causes Low NAD Levels?
NAD levels fluctuate throughout our lives and tend to drop as we age. Our bodies produce NAD naturally, but we need to get the key components (NAD boosters or precursors) through our diets. As a result, a number of dietary and lifestyle factors affect NAD levels.
The following can lead to reduced NAD levels:
- Drinking large amounts of alcohol
- Excessive exposure to UV rays
- Long-term sleep deprivation
- Poor diet
- Certain infections
- Sedentary lifestyle/lack of exercise.
In turn, healthy habits like getting frequent exercise, sleeping well, and eating a balanced, wholefood diet, have been shown to increase levels of NAD in the body. Some studies also suggest that intermittent fasting could be linked to higher NAD levels.
NAD Boosters: the Key to Maintaining NAD Levels
So, to recap: our bodies make NAD, but we need to make sure we’re providing our bodies with everything they need to do so. Think of it like making a cake: you need to make sure you have all the right ingredients. That’s where NAD boosters, also known as NAD precursors, come in.
Most, but not all, NAD boosters come in the form of vitamin B3. While different NAD precursors have different molecular make-ups and work in different ways, they all end up as NAD. Going back to the cake analogy, you might choose to use eggs, flour, butter, and sugar. If you switch out the butter for coconut oil or flour for ground almonds, you’ll still end up with a cake – it might just take a few extra steps to get there.
Let’s take a look at some of the more common NAD boosters. It’s worth noting that although these sound similar to the drug nicotine that is found in tobacco products, they function completely differently.
Nictonic Acid, aka Niacin (NA)
The oldest and best known NAD booster, niacin, is a form of vitamin B3 that was discovered in the 1930s. It occurs naturally in yeast, green vegetables, beans, cereal grains, meat, fish, and eggs. It is also added to enriched flour in many countries. While it has historically been used to treat vitamin B3 deficiencies, nowadays it is not used in high quantities as it has associated side effects, such as flushing.
Nicotinamide, aka Niacinamide (NAM)
NAM is another form of B3, which was also discovered in the 1930s. It is one of the most popular forms of NAD booster in health supplements, as it is less likely to cause side effects. NAM also has greater bioavailability than niacin.
Nicotinamide Riboside aka Niagen (NR)
A synthetic version of nicotinamide, NR is also a form of vitamin B3 that has been in use since the 1940s. However, its ability to boost NAD levels was only discovered in 2004.
How to Take NAD Boosters
While it is possible to get enough vitamin B3 through diet alone, many people choose to take supplements, especially athletes and people eating plant-based diets, as many dietary sources of vitamin B3 are animal products. A dosage of around 75mg is typical for general use, though everyone should consult with a doctor before taking it, especially people with health conditions.