Niacin is a vitamin that has been found to have life-prolonging effects, demonstrated in roundworms. The study also came to the conclusion that so-called reactive oxygen species are – despite the findings from other research – healthy.
Living a long, happy, and healthy life is the dream of just about everyone, and now there is a food supplement that could help people do just that. ETH Zurich scientists have used roundworms to demonstrate that by including vitamin B3 – AKA niacin – and the metabolite nicotinamide into the diet of the ringworms extended their average life span by about 10%.
The research team was headed up by Michael Ristow – a professor of energy metabolism. Their experiments show that niacin and nicotinamide produce free radicals. Long considered the enemy of humans everywhere, it appears that free radical reaction oxygen species prolong the life of roundworms.
No Scientific Evidence Antioxidants are Useful
This finding will certainly come as a shock to many as reactive oxygen species are considered to be incredibly unhealthy. Problems such as obesity, inflammation, and even cancer have been attached to free radicals.
Ristow’s research contradicts the mainstream opinion that many scientists champion themselves. Free radicals are known to cause damage to the somatic cells in a condition known as oxidative stress. There are certain substances – known as antioxidants – found in fruit, vegetables, and vegetable oils.
These antioxidants can neutralize free radicals, undoing the damage. Scientists around the world are in agreement that these antioxidants have a positive effect on health.
Ristow says that there is a lack of scientific support to validate the claim that taking antioxidants, particularly tablet supplements, can benefit human health. He doesn’t disagree with the fact that fruits and vegetables are healthy but suggests that there are other substances in the foods that give them health benefits; such as the polyphenols inside them.
Ristow says that there is no disputing how healthy fruits and vegetables are, even though they contain antioxidants. Current and past findings have convinced Ristow that there is a positive health benefit to small amounts of free radicals and low levels of oxidative stress. He says that cells can cope with oxidative stress and neutralize it by themselves.
Substance Offers Same Benefits as Endurance Sports
Earlier studies that Ristow performed demonstrated how endurance sports benefit health by increasing free radical levels, and that this effect could be abolished by taking antioxidants.
His present study leads him to conclude that niacin causes a similar effect on metabolism to exercising. He says that niacin can trick the body into believing that it is exercising, even when it isn’t. There is a name for compounds that have this effect; “exercise mimetics”.
The experiments were done to the worm species Caenorhabditis Elegans. This species of worm, which measures just one millimeter, is easy to obtain and lives for an average of just a month; making it the ideal test subject for research on aging like this.
Relevance to Humans
Ristow says that the study results can also be relevant for humans. The metabolic pathways that niacin opens up don’t change much between roundworms and higher organisms such as humans.
Ristow is doing further research on the matter; testing to see how niacin affects the lifespan of mice. Previous studies into niacin itself have shown that it can improve the health of people who have high levels of cholesterol.
Niacin and nicotinamide have long been approved as dietary supplements. Ristow believes that the substances could become therapeutic drugs in the near future. Plenty of foods contain niacin naturally, including meat, fish, mushrooms, peanuts, rice, and wheat brain.
Ristow does say that it will be some time before he can prove conclusively if the nutritional uptake of niacin is enough to improve health and extend lifespan.
Disputed Impact of Enzymes
The latest research into the effects of niacin and nicotinamide is based on sirtuin enzymes, which are used to convert niacin into nicotinamide. These enzymes also play a part in gene regulation down-regulating certain genes. Scientists have long been disputing whether or not sirtuins are able to prolong life.
The work that Ristow and his team have done would suggest that sirtuins are indeed able to prolong life. At least in roundworms. The study does suggest, however, that gene-regulation is not the reason for this life-prolonging effect. Gene regulation was believed to be the reason for the effect – if indeed it did exist. Rather, the effect is caused by the process of turning niacin into nicotinamide.
Scientists studied genetically modified roundworms as well. These roundworms were modified to be unable to create metabolic products from nicotinamide. These roundworms did not see the same life-prolonging effects, even after creating plenty of sirtuins, proving that the sirtuins are not what is responsible for increasing life expectancy.