Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a type of neurodegenerative disorder that affects an estimated 10 million around the world. According to Parkinson’s Foundation, as many as 1 million people will be living with PD in the United States alone by 2020.
Doctors and scientists have been learning more about this condition for decades. Those affected by it have been advocating for it for years (actor Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed at age 29, has been a prominent figure). Still to this day, many questions about PD exist.
One area of research that is meriting closer attention? The possibility that a simple vitamin compound known as nicotinamide riboside could actually play a helpful role in the management of the disease.
Parkinson’s Disease 101
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease that causes nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra to weaken and die over time. The nerve cells which end up degenerating and dying produce a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is a brain chemical messenger that contributes to a variety of functions in the body, including movement.
This loss of dopamine producing nerve cells ultimately explains the primary symptoms of PD—changes with movement. In the earliest stages of the disease, a person may begin to notice issues such as tremor, slower movement, and muscle or limb twitches. Symptoms worsen gradually over time, and eventually can cause a person to have extreme difficulty with basic functional tasks. They may become extremely rigid, have trouble writing or speaking, and experience marked difficulty with things like posture, balance, walking, and blinking.
PD affects men at about 1.5 times as often as women, and while advancing age is a common risk factor, estimates indicate that around 4% of people living with PD were diagnosed before age 50. Other risk factors include genes and exposure to certain environmental toxins such as herbicides.
Currently, there isn’t a cure for PD, however symptoms can generally be well-managed through medications. These medications can be expensive, however, and may come with unpleasant side effects.
In an effort to explore different options, some researchers are finding that a simple enzyme precursor may make a huge difference.
Promising News: How This Alternative Form of Vitamin B3 Can Help People with PD
A study was recently published in the June 2018 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Cell Reports. Researchers tested neural stem cell lines from people with PD with a substance called nicotinamide riboside, better known as niacin, an alternate form of Vitamin B3. The researchers also tested nicotinamide riboside in fruit flies who had the same genetic defect seen in people with PD.
Why test with this compound? As it turns out,once inside the body nictonamide riboside gives rise to an enzyme called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+). NAD+ plays several roles in the body, including regulating the biological clock (circadian rhythm), converting food into energy, strengthening cellular defense systems, enhancing cellular metabolism, and repairing damaged mitochondria (which produce cellular energy) and DNA.
This last point is what interested the researchers most. After all, mitochondrial damage is known to occur in nerve cells damaged in the development and progression of PD. If, the researchers hypothesized, nicotinamide riboside could repair damaged mitochondria, could supplementing with this vitamin B compound help manage the underlying neurodegenerative disease?
Their findings were promising. Not only did nicotinaimide riboside boost NAD+ production and subsequent mitochondrial repair in diseased cells, but it actually prevented nerve cell loss in the PD flies and preserved mobility.
The researchers also noted that nicotinaimide riboside is generally well-tolerated, and—because it increases NAD+ production—also offers other health benefits, including protection of cardiovascular health, vision, and diabetes.
The results of this study on nicotinamide riboside are promising for people living with Parkinson’s disease, as well as for people at risk for developing it. As an added benefit, supplementing with this anti-aging compound is relatively affordable, well tolerated, and safe.
To learn more, speak with your doctor.