NAD+, or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, sounds like the other millions of molecules we have in our system. But mark my words: this one could be the elixir of forever young skin that you can take even from your skincare routine. Researchers studying this molecule for decades add weight to the idea that NAD+ serves a pivotal role in biological aging and longevity rather than merely functioning as an electron carrier. What does that mean exactly? What’s so fascinating about NAD+ that everyone is raving about, and how does its presence influence skin aging?
In a 2020 podcast episode, Australian biologist and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, Dr. David Sinclair, made a bold claim: “You could argue NAD+ is the most important molecule in the body. If you didn’t have NAD in your body, you’d be dead in about 30 seconds.” It’s also the molecule that regulates how we age. “What’s interesting about this is that NAD+ isn’t being driven by the clock, the clock is driven by NAD+,” he adds. This means NAD+ is the one that drives the aging process in our bodies rather than being controlled by it.
Dr. Sinclair is one of the most impactful voices and a world leader in the science of aging, and his research on NAD+ is changing the landscape of the skincare industry that could help everyone age healthier. He’s also the author of the book “Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To,” where he mostly stresses the importance of taking care of NAD levels in our body. “Longevity is only ~20% genetic. The rest is up to us”.
What is NAD?
NAD stands for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, and it’s a coenzyme found in every cell in our body that’s involved in hundreds of cellular processes. So what’s the big deal about it? Well, in simpler terms, NAD is like the fuel that supports our cells in converting food into energy and repairing DNA damage. Without NAD, our bodies just wouldn’t function properly, which would ultimately accelerate aging. Think of NAD+ as the master regulator of aging, orchestrating a complex network of cellular processes to keep everything in our system young and healthy.
NAD+ is also a cofactor for sirtuins. Dr. David Sinclair explains that “sirtuins are a class of proteins that have two jobs: to regulate gene expression and activate DNA repair enzymes” He also points out that “sirtuins are genes that protect all organisms from deterioration and need NAD+ to function properly.” More interestingly, sirtuins have been found to affect the production and breakdown of collagen in cells, which is the main protein that maintains skin structure and gives it elasticity.
So it would be fair to say NAD is the enzyme that dictates how everything in our body ages and behaves, including our skin cells. However, there is some bad news: NAD levels naturally decline as we get older and also due to sun damage, poor diet, and lack of sleep. “By the time we’re 50, our NAD+ levels are about half what they were when we were 20,” says David.
How NAD affects skin aging
The loss of NAD can spell trouble for the body as it’s associated with a series of aging-related conditions, such as slow cell recovery, poor defense against external damage, reduced metabolism, decreased energy production, and less skin resilience. But when it comes to the skin, the effects can be particularly noticeable.
You see, when the body lacks NAD, it means that cells don’t have enough fuel to fulfill their roles. Over time, this can cause cells to die. In turn, it can lead to a gradual deterioration in the skin’s structure and function since the cells that produce vital proteins like collagen and elastin will also be affected by the loss of NAD. As a result, visible signs of aging, like wrinkles and sagging, can start to appear.
But the good news is that scientists have come up with some powerful boosters to help our body to produce more NAD+.
One of them is NMN (nicotinamide mononucleotide), which is a form of vitamin B3. Others are nicotinamide riboside (NR) and myristyl nicotinate (MN)—also forms of vitamin B3. What’s special about these guys? Well, they’re all NAD precursors, meaning they convert into NAD once they’re absorbed by the body. Taking supplements or applying topical products with these boosters has been well-studied to improve NAD levels.
But why not just take NAD? It turns out NAD has a large molecule that reduces its bioavailability and absorption into the body. So it remains more effective and practical to use precursors instead.
How to increase NAD levels
Replenishing and maintaining cellular NAD levels has gone mainstream in the skincare world because of its effects on the skin. Briefly, you can boost NAD+ through supplementation, exercise, fasting, skincare products, and by exposing yourself to cold and heat.
Regular exercise has been shown to increase NAD levels in the body. This is because daily workouts require more NAD for energy, and your body responds by producing it. Staying physically fit can go a long way toward slowing down the skin aging process. Also, exercising reduces telomere shortening, which can lead to healthier skin, as longer telomeres are associated with increased cell longevity.
Limit sun exposure
Sun exposure prematurely depletes your body’s supply of NAD. The reason is that UV damage forces your body to use increased amounts of NAD to repair the cells, which affects its levels over time. It’s a double-whammy because studies suggest that the skin becomes more sensitive to sunlight if NAD levels are depleted due to photodamage. So do your body a favor and limit sun exposure as much as possible. Also, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+ every day to protect your skin from UV.
There are several foods rich in NMN and other NAD precursors that can help increase NAD levels in the body. These include dairy products such as milk and yogurt, as well as fish, poultry, and beef. Vegetables like mushrooms, broccoli, and avocado are also good sources, as are nuts and seeds such as peanuts and sunflower seeds. Additionally, some fruits like dates and tomatoes, and coffee and green tea are also known to contain compounds that boost NAD levels.
Another popular eating plan to promote NAD restoration is a Ketosis diet, which follows a low-carb, high-protein, healthy fats food plan.
Intermittent fasting can also increase NAD levels. When you fast, your body switches to burning stored fats for energy, which triggers the release of enzymes and the activation of sirtuins. This process can help improve the body’s response to stress, as well as slow down skin aging.
Interestingly, NAD levels fluctuate daily depending on the time of day and your food intake. For example, they drop drastically after a big meal.
A recent study from 2021 found that oral supplementation of 500mg nicotinamide (a form of vitamin B3) led to a significant increase in blood NAD levels after 12h. Taking supplements with NR and NMN (NAD precursors) is also effective. Dr. Sinclair, for example, is taking 1g of NMN every morning mixed in yogurt. Obviously, the optimal dosage depends on your age and condition—the older you are, the higher the dosage you need.
There are several NAD precursors found in skincare products that can help increase NAD levels. They’ve been shown to improve skin hydration, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and improve texture and tone.
One such precursor is myristyl nicotinate (NIA-114), which is an active found in StriVectin products. For instance, a study found that applying a cream containing NIA-114 increased NAD levels by 25% and significantly improved photodamaged skin. Another precursor is nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, which you’ll only find in Filorga products.