How the body makes and maintains NAD+?
What is so rad about NAD+?
NAD+ is a vital molecule that helps every cell in our bodies live and breathe. It is literally involved in hundreds of biochemical reactions going on in all your cells, every second of the day. It not only plays a key role in metabolism, or how cells make energy, and regulating sleep, but also in repairing our DNA, and maintaining telomeres, or the end-caps that protect our DNA from ageing. And, as well as protecting us from mental and nervous system decline, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, higher levels of NAD+ are also thought to protect us against cancer, radiation, and diabetes. Indeed, scientists are currently studying how to target NAD+ with a wide range of drugs, in order to make them more effective in treatments.
New drugs are also being developed on the foundation of NAD+, which acts as a substrate, a kind of welcome mat for medicines and enzyme reactions. By creating substances that attach to this substrate, we can essentially turn on or off, or rather dial up or down, certain biochemical reactions, with anti-cancer, anti-viral, and immunosuppressive effects. Not everything to do with NAD+ happens inside of cells. NAD+ is also used for communication between cells. In fact, it has been identified as a neurotransmitter issued by blood vessels, the bladder, intestine, and brain synapses. And, it is considered particularly important is controlling smooth muscles, which are present in everything from the stomach and uterus to our eyes, and even the hairs on our skin that stand on end when we are scared or cold.
How much NAD+ do we need?
As the second most abundant molecule in the human body, we certainly need a lot of it. Here there is some good news and some bad news. The good news is the body can make its own, or rather it can produce it from various forms of vitamin B and amino acids that are readily found in foods such as beans, meat, eggs, and fish. The body can even recycle the NAD+ that has used, salvaging it from a particular molecule called nicotinamide mononucleotide, or NMN for short. The bad news is that, as we get older, we tend to have less and less NAD+ in our bodies. Even if we maintain a healthy diet and continue to exercise. As we cruise past middle and approach retirement age, we have less than half the NAD+ we had in our prime. Essentially, levels of NAD+ in our bodies roughly halve as our age doubles. And so, by the time we are 90, we can have as much as 90% less than when we were one.
Our NAD+ levels don’t just drop off with age. They are also brought down by infections and viruses, drinking alcohol, smoking, eating unhealthily, getting stressed about work, feeling loneliness and social isolation, exercising or sleeping too little or too much, and getting too much or not enough sun. At the same time, NAD+ is needed to protect us from all of these things. So it’s kind of like a vicious or virtuous circle, in that we can improve NAD+ levels, and, therefore, our general health, by living better, but we can also improve our health and well-being by boosting our NAD+ levels.