Apparently so. According to a new study, vitamin B3 (niacin) is a powerful antioxidant that, by means of enzyme processes, protects the body against aging and diseases caused by oxidative stress.
During ageing process, the gradually accumulating cell destructions play a determining role. They may be caused by interior or exterior factors. Although the ageing process still involves many unanswered questions, science has come a great deal further in understanding it. According to a new scientific article that is published in Nature Communications, a group of researchers have managed to improve the general antioxidant capacity of cells, thereby delaying ageing processes and extending the lifespan of the cells. The researchers point to vitamin B3 as a possible way of delaying the ageing processes, preventing age-related diseases, and extending lifespan.
Ageing processes and oxidative stress
In 1956, Denham Harman presented his hypothesis about the ageing processes, which is called the oxidative hypothesis of ageing or the free radicals hypothesis. Free radicals are aggressive molecules that attack our cells and are able to cause so-called oxidative stress. Free radicals are a natural waste product of our own respiration, and the number of free radicals increases as part of the ageing process. The free radical load is even worsened by e.g. poisoning, tobacco smoke, inflammation, radiation, and stress. The more free radicals our cells get exposed to, the more vulnerable they become. This is where protective antioxidants are needed, and the big question is how to ensure an adequate antioxidant defense.
Antioxidants protect against free radicals
The only effective protection against free radicals and oxidative stress is different kinds of antioxidants. Our diet contributes with vitamins A, C, and E plus selenium, zinc, and different plant compounds. Now, with the most recent science, researchers have even become aware of vitamin B3.
Researchers uncover a key function of certain antioxidant processes
Ever since Denham Harman presented his hypothesis about free radicals and ageing processes, numerous scientific studies of antioxidants have failed to a greater or lesser extent. Nonetheless, a group of Spanish researchers, headed by Manuel Serrano, have tried to map out the general antioxidant capacity of cells, rather than measuring the effect of one or a few antioxidants only. As something entirely new, the scientists tried to increase the level of NADPH (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate), as this is a rather elementary molecule with a key function in relation to antioxidant reactions. Vitamin B3 is involved in the synthesis of NADPH precursors.
In their study, the researchers used transgenic mice that had been genetically modified. The genetic material that had been transferred to the mice increased the level of NADPH by means of the G6PD enzyme (glucose-6-phosphate-dehydrogenase). Their study revealed that an increase in G6PD, and the subsequent increase in levels of NADPH, increased the natural antioxidant defense of cells, thereby reducing the ageing process in the mice on several accounts.
Improved physique and increased lifespan
The researchers observed that the transgenic mice were far more resistant to toxic, oxidative treatments. The older transgenic mice had improved sugar metabolism and improved physical coordination compared with regular older mice. The transgenic female mice lived 14 per cent longer than average compared with normal female mice, yet there was no significant difference between the male mice in the two groups. Also, there was no difference in terms of cancer development, where other protective compounds such as selenium play a role.
Vitamin B3 increases the general antioxidant defense of cells
Compared with the traditional method where scientists measure how antioxidants react directly with oxygen and free radicals, the researchers behind the above mentioned study stimulated all of the natural antioxidant defense mechanisms in the cells by increasing levels of G6PD and, subsequently, levels of NADPH.
Based on their findings, the researchers point to supplements of vitamin B3 or pharmacological remedies that are able to raise levels of G6PD and, subsequently, NADPH. By increasing the body's general antioxidant defense against free radicals, science has a potentially useful tool for delaying ageing and age-related diseases like diabetes, rheumatism, and atherosclerosis.
Good dietary sources of vitamin B3
- Meat, fish, liver, peanuts, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, avocado, and eggs.
Vitamin B3 is important for
- The conversion of carbohydrate, fat, and protein to energy
- Cardiovascular system and cholesterol balance
- The nervous system
- Skin and mucous membranes
- Protection against oxidative stress (according to new science)
Deficiencies and poor utilization may be caused by
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Poor dietary habits and life-long dieting
- Liver ailments
- Old age
- Prolonged use of certain types of diuretics
Sandrina Nóbrega-Pereira et al: G6PD protects from oxidative damage and improves healthspan in mice. Nature Communications 2016
Centro National de Investigaciones Oncológicas (CNIO). Vitamin B3 to stay younger? A global increase in antioxidant defences of the body may delay aging and its diseases. ScienceDaily 2016
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