Do NAD BOOSTERS Cause Cancer? Or Prevent It?

Updated 9/16/2019

Lots of people are taking supplements such as NR, NMN and other NAD BOOSTERS in the hopes of improving the quality of their lives and (perhaps) living a few years or decades longer.

But could we be doing damage to our health by taking them?

NAD is essential to the body, and levels of it decrease as we age. There is evidence that increasing its levels through diet and other interventions may slow aging and have other benefits to the body.

There has also been some recent evidence suggesting that some types of cancer (including brain cancer and colon cancer) may be fueled by having an internal environment richer in NAD.  Could taking niacin, nicotinamide, NR, NMN or other forms of vitamin B3 that boost NAD levels, actually be setting us up for health problems down the road?

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  • It’s intended solely for informational purposes, and is not meant to be taken as, and should not be construed, as medical advice. Any changes to your lifestyle or diet should be done in consultation with your doctor or health care professional. 
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The truth is that we don’t know. More research is needed. The studies showing a connection with cancer(s) are preliminary.  

However, we do know that many of the activities which increase levels of NAD+ in the body tend to strengthen our immune systems as a side effect, and appear to be protective against cancer. 

Activities with these benefits include:

  • HIIT exercise (or any exercise that creates a temporary oxygen deficit)
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Prolonged fasting (for 3-5 days) (or, fasting-mimicking diets of a similar length)
  • Heat exposure (spending some time in the sauna)
  • Cold exposure (cold showers or ice baths)
  • Hot/cold contrast (showers that go from hot to cold, hot to cold, hot to cold, ending on cold

Athletes who engage in vigorous physical exercise have higher NAD and tend to live longer, not shorter lives than many others in the general population. And lab animals whose NAD levels were raised through giving then dietary NAD boosters, also tended to live longer and appear younger.

And many, many studies have suggested that vitamin B3 (from which most NAD boosters are derived) is protective against cancer. Niacin, for example, does raise NAD,  but it appears to be decrease, not increase, our odds of succumbing to cancer.

Avoiding problems

My own feeling is that if all that we do is pop NR or NMN capsules, while eating bad diets and living sedentary lives, then we’re probably heading for trouble.

But if we eat a healthy diet (at the minimum, one high in nutrients but low in sugar), take supplements designed to support our health, and get out and exercise three or four times a week,  and do a little fasting now and then, then bolstering our NAD levels through supplementation is likely to be helpful in the long run.

So I plan to continue taking NMN in the mornings, and niacin at night — but also to keep exercising, taking hot/cold showers, eating a diet for longevity, and doing occasional prolonged fasts.

It’s similar, perhaps, to the question of nutrients and nutritional supplements. To use one nutrient as an example, human beings need the B vitamin folate. We’ll have all kinds of health problems if we don’t have it in our diets. If we’re healthy, eating a diet rich in folate, such as one including lots of leafy greens, will likely be beneficial to our health,

But certain types of cancer also love folate. If we have those types of cancer, and they’ve gotten a foothold in our bodies, we may need to avoid folate (or eat diets extremely low in it).

Cancer is starting all of the time in the body.  Strong immune systems kill cancer cells. Taking NMN or NR while doing other things to keep our immune systems strong is likely to be of benefit. 

If you have cancer (not just a cell or two floating around in your bloodstream, but a cancer which has taken hold and is growing and causing health problems, it makes sense to avoid NAD boosting supplements. If you’re trying to prevent it and prolong your life, in my opinion, it makes good sense to take them. NAD boosters aren’t magic pills that will make us live forever even if we sit around nibbling potato chips all day. But as part of a regimen designed to support our health and longevity, the benefits of taking them likely outweigh the risks.

That’s my POV, after looking at the evidence I’ve seen. You’ll have to decide for yourself what makes sense to you. If you decide not to take them, there are many other things you can go on doing to support your health and long life.

Safer ways to raise NAD levels?

I mentioned fasting above, and will be focusing on it a bit more below.

Doing fasting is one of the ideal ways of accomplishing what many of us are trying to do when we take NAD precursors. I’ve done several 4-5 day fasts for the purpose of triggering autophagy, apoptosis, and the creation of new stem cells at the end of the fast. And unlike taking NAD-boosting supplements, fasting is free.

Short fasts (skipping breakfast or dinner now and then and “fasting” till the next meal have some benefits. But doing occasional 4-5 day fasts or fasting mimicking diets have more profound ones.

A long fast will clean your cells of debris; kill and cannibalize your senescent cells; kill and cannibalize senescent mitochondria; then at the end of the fast, our bodies will create new stem cells and new, “young” mitochondria to replace the dying ones that were cannibalized. 

Like taking supplemental NAD boosters, fasting does have some dangers and drawbacks. Some people have caused organ failure (kidney failure in particular) by overly long fasts. And it’s possible that we may reach an age at which fasting no longer has benefits. Dr. Valter Longo said that if you’re in you’re late 60s, it may not be wise or beneficial to do fasting (or even do a fasting mimicking diet).  This was based on the fact that older mice did not respond as well to fasting as young ones, in lab experiments. 

I’m 66 and still plan on doing more fasts,  but I may be approaching the point of diminishing returns.

As a side note, things like HIIT exercise, hot/cold showers, saunas, ice baths, and other things that stress the body just the right amount, work along similar pathways to fasting, and also raise NAD+ levels. There are so many health benefits to activities like these, that they likely more than make up for the slight possibility of increased NAD production fueling cancer. 

Don’t forget the activator

Whatever method you use to increase NAD levels (if you choose to), I suspect it’s necessary to take a NAD+ activator such as quercetin, resveratrol or fisetin, so that our bodies can make good use of the NAD+ being created. I haven’t seen any studies showing this, but I wonder if the NAD/cancer problem might possibly to related to having too little of the activators that help our bodies make use of NAD+.