Popular dietary supplement could prevent onset of Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimers Research UK explain 'what is dementia?'

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Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in the UK. It is a progressive condition affecting multiple brain functions. This can lead to issues with memory, speech and behaviour, among other changes.

Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. However, a new study has shown that a certain naturally occurring dietary supplement can enter the brain, potentially lowering the risk for diseases like Alzheimer’s.

After consumption, nicotinamide riboside (NR), which is part of the vitamin B3 family, is quickly converted into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+).

NAD+ is critical to cellular repair and the repair of damaged DNA.

In a University of Delaware release, Christopher Martens – assistant professor of kinesiology and applied physiology and director of the Delaware Center for Cognitive Ageing Research – explained: “NAD+ is gradually lost as we get older or develop chronic diseases.

“Loss of NAD+ is linked to obesity and other negative lifestyle habits like smoking. Because more NAD+ is needed to counteract those negative consequences, it’s more likely to be depleted in the face of negative lifestyle habits.”

A previous study conducted by Mr Martens found that levels of NAD+ could be boosted in the blood if people ingested NR, but it was not clear if it could reach other tissues in the body.

“We had some preliminary signs of efficacy, including lower blood pressure in people who had high blood pressure to begin with,” he said. “But until now, it was unknown whether NR reached targeted organs like the brain to have a real therapeutic effect.”

However, this latest research – published in Ageing Cell journal – proved that NAD+ could enter the brain.

To achieve this, Mr Martens and colleagues measured NAD+ directly in tiny particles called extracellular vesicles that originated from neurons and ended up in the blood.

He said: “Each vesicle has a unique molecular signature on its surface, including proteins that give you clues about its origin.

“In our case, we selected vesicles that carry markers that are characteristic of neurons, and so we have confidence that the NAD+ we measured in them reflects what happens in the neurons, and by extension the brain.”

Using samples from their first initial clinical trial, the researchers determined, first, that NAD+ levels went up in these vesicles after six weeks.

“When NAD+ goes up in these vesicles, we see an association with some of the biomarkers of neurodegenerative disease,” he said.

“Particularly, in people where we saw an increase in NAD+, we also saw changes in biomarkers like amyloid beta and tau, which are both related to Alzheimer’s disease.”

The team also found a correlation between these neurodegenerative biomarkers and change in NAD+.

Mr Martens added: “If NAD+ went up a lot, there was typically a larger change in some of the disease biomarkers. That tells us the NAD+ is not only getting into the brain but it’s likely also having some effect on its metabolism and multiple interrelated pathways.”

Mr Martens is now leading a 12-week study involving NR in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.

Through the study, he seeks to determine whether increased consumption of NR has an even larger effect in people with cognitive impairment.

“They’re coming in with cognitive deficits, and as a result, are more likely to have an accumulation of some of these biomarkers in their brain, so there’s a chance we’ll see bigger reductions in these biomarkers because they have more of them in their cells,” he said.

“In our ongoing trial, we’re measuring markers of cognitive function and other things related to functional independence and quality of life, but we’re also hoping to gain some insight on the underlying disease process. We’re hoping that the people who take the NR might have preserved function.”

Nicotinamide riboside is commonly taken as a supplement to prevent ageing, high blood pressure and high cholesterol – although there is no strong scientific evidence to support this.

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