Wouldn’t it be lovely if there was just one thing we could do, one food to eat or one supplement to take which would slow down ageing? It would make everything so simple. But ageing is such a complex process that one quick fix is as likely as flying pigs.
There has, however, been a lot of interest in recent years in the role of one single molecule, in cellular ageing. It’s known as NAD+, which stands for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, and this coenzyme is critical for DNA repair and the transfer of energy from food to cells via the mitochondria. It’s particularly important in the brain, where it appears to help replenish neurotransmitters (the brain’s messenger service), slow cell senescence (when cells die or become ‘zombies’) and improve function.
NAD+ works on the ‘longevity pathways’, those information superhighways within our bodies which repair damaged DNA. Research shows it’s integrally linked to one of the key hallmarks of ageing – telomere length. (You can read more about telomeres here but – quick primer – these are the shoelace-like caps on the ends of our chromosomes, which protect strands of DNA from degrading). Having plenty of NAD+ in the tank, as it were, keeps those telomeres tightly bound so they remain long and strong.
WHERE’S MY NAD+ GONE?
NAD+ is found in every cell, but levels in the body decline with age (sigh). This process is exacerbated by:
- Oxidative stress – an imbalance between free radicals in the body and antioxidants to mop them up leads to the body using more NAD+ to deal with the damage
- Poor diet – the body can’t make new NAD+ unless it’s got the tools for the job. The standard Western diet is low in the foods which our body can convert into NAD+, but read on to find out what those foods are, and a recipe packed with them.
- This is the end result of stress, both external and internal. The body works hard to dampen down inflammation, but burns through a lot of NAD+ to do so.
WHERE CAN I GET SOME NAD+?
We can’t just buy NAD+ off the shelf, unfortunately, but we can make sure we consume foods which provide the raw materials our bodies need to create it. And, of course, the work that NAD+ does, activating the longevity pathways, can be replicated by intermittent fasting and short bursts of intense exercise (HIIT).
There’s an increasing market for supplements which give the body building blocks with which to create NAD+. The two most well-known being NR (Nicotinamide Riboside) and NMN (Nicotinamide Mononucleotide). If you’ve read David Sinclair’s book, Lifespan, you’ll know that he’s a proponent of NMN supplementation – he even gives it to his dogs!!
Annabel and I have debated this: after an initial trial of NMN supplements, Annabel balked at the cost (it’s not cheap) and decided that her lifestyle choices (a long overnight fast and regular exercise) provides the longevity boost she needs. I’m more pro-supplementation than Annabel, and when I’m on a hectic project my lifestyle needs support so I do take NMN from time to time (which I’m sure must make it less effective). I purchase it from a British brand called Youth & Earth (not sponsored by them etc etc but wanted to share if you’re interested, they often have deals). And I keep it in the fridge.
Another precursor to NAD+ is essentially a B vitamin, B3, also known as niacin. It helps the body convert food into energy. Niacin also lowers levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol and triglycerides, reduces oxidative stress and inflammation, and boosts brain function by supporting production of the ‘happiness hormone’ serotonin. It’s water soluble which means we wee it out rather than store it in the body, so we need to keep levels topped up. In the UK, the NHS recommends 16.5mg of niacin a day for men, and 13.2mg for women.
It’s possible to supplement with niacin (be aware that over-supplementation can cause dizziness and flushing), but there are plenty of food sources. Find niacin in:
- Liver, particularly beef or chicken.
- A chicken breast, salmon fillet or portion of canned tuna
- Brown rice
- Lean pork and beef
- Anchovies – 10 anchovies provides half our RDA
- Mushrooms, peas, edamame beans, and potatoes
An essential amino acid, tryptophan, can also be converted into NAD+ in the body, but a lot less efficiently than niacin. Tryptophan is found in many of the same foods as niacin, and also turkey, eggs, pumpkin and sesame seeds, tofu and soy, chocolate.
Eating for brain health
If you’d like to know more about the best nutrients for brain health, there’s still time to book my Feed Your Brain Masterclass on Tuesday Feb 2nd at 7pm. I’ll talk you through some of the latest research into eating to reduce dementia risk and share some really easy strategies for making sense of the science in our own lives. Tickets are available via Eventbrite here:
I’ve got giveaways and recipes too, so do join me! And don’t worry if you can’t make that date or time – sign up for a ticket and I’ll send you a replay link the next day.
NIACIN PEANUT BOWL serves 4
I’ve put as many niacin-rich foods as I can into one recipe to create a hearty bowl of deliciousness.
- 4 tbs crunchy peanut butter
- 1 tbs coriander leaves and stalks, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
- Splash of chilli sauce or a pinch of chilli flakes (according to taste)
- 2 tsp ginger pulp
- Juice of ½ – 1 lime (depending on taste and how juicy your lime is, I find they vary wildly)
- 3 large or 4 small chicken breasts
- 250g brown rice,
- 100g edamame beans,
- 3 spring onions, finely sliced
- 100g kale, ribs removed, finely sliced
- 1 tbs olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Mix the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Put the chicken breasts between two sheets of greaseproof paper and bash with a rolling pin to flatten them out slightly (you want to increase the surface area by about 1/3). Place the chicken breasts in a roasting dish and smear them with half the peanut sauce. Bake in the oven for approx. 20 minutes until they are cooked through.
Meanwhile, cook the brown rice, and either throw in the edamame beans for the last 5 minutes, or pop them into a steamer on top of the rice as it cooks. Put the kale into a bowl, add the oil and season well with salt and pepper. Massage the kale for a couple of minutes until it starts to collapse.
Let the chicken rest for a couple of minutes then slice into strips. Serve on top of the drained rice and edamame beans, with the kale and remaining peanut sauce alongside. Sprinkle spring onions over the top.