If scientists could wave their magic wands to create a miraculous pill that everyone would want to take, they would probably choose to create one that slowed or stopped the aging process. After all, who wouldn’t want stall the effects of aging, such as wrinkles, hormone decline, grey hair and general aches and pains?
Chances are this magic pill will never materialize, because the aging process is multifactorial and no single ingredient could fix every factor that causes aging. But we can slow the process somewhat by focusing on some specifics factors that we know contribute. For example, mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells, slow down with age and cause some of the physical manifestations of aging. Some consequences of mitochondrial sluggishness include fatigue, weaker muscle contraction (including the heart muscles), slower brain cell communication and slowing of organ regeneration.
A novel discovery about mitochondria is that they also contribute to the endurance of stem cells. You probably have heard about stem cells in the context of stem cell treatments, which uses stem cells from other sources to treat various conditions such as heart disease, joint disease and neurodegenerative conditions. But in this case, we are talking about the stem cells that already exist in our body. They are essential for regeneration of organs and muscles as we age, however they tend to slow down and are less effective with their regenerative powers.
One way to restore the capacity of mitochondria and consequentially stem cells, may be through nutrients. This new study found that a type of B vitamin, called nicotinamide riboside may provide rejuvenation for stem cells and help with muscle regeneration in older people, based on test results in mice. If the effect is similar in humans, it means there is potential for improving muscle cell regeneration as we age, which equates to better energy for more activities and potentially less muscle stiffness and pain.
Nicotinamide riboside is a nutrient that boosts NAD production, which is used in the mitochondrial production of energy (ATP). It’s through this pathway that rejuvenating mitochondria also means boosting stem cell function. This study showed how nicotinamide riboside can help muscle stem cells, but it also theorizes that this benefit may extend to nerve and skin cells (meaning better cognitive function and wrinkles).
Nicotinamide riboside isn’t a magic anti-aging bullet, because there are many facets to the aging process, including hormone (such as thyroid, progesterone or testosterone) decline and free radical damage that we must address. But this nutrient is a good addition to our overall plan for healthy aging.
Hongbo Zhang, et. al. NAD repletion improves mitochondrial and stem cell function and enhances lifespan in mice. Science, 2016 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2693