Diet, Nutrition and Supplements: January/February 2023

Popular Anti-Aging Supplement ‘Raises the Risk of Brain Cancer’

Caitlin Tilley

Nov. 14, 2022 ( – A popular dietary supplement may raise the risk of cancer, research has found.

Nicotinamide riboside (NR), a form of vitamin B3, is advertised as having anti-aging effects, as well as being able to bring down high cholesterol and blood pressure.

But a study by the University of Missouri-Columbia on mice found NR increases the risk of breast cancer, and causes the disease to spread to the brain, which is fatal.

NR pills cost around $0.60 per tablet and can be bought on Amazon and at most health shops.

The supplement is converted by the body into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), a coenzyme which is key for giving cells energy. Cancer cells feed off this energy, so the researchers wanted to look at NR’s role in the spread of cancer.

Dr Elena Goun, study lead and associate professor of chemistry at the University of Missouri, said: ‘Some people take them [vitamins and supplements] because they automatically assume that vitamins and supplements only have positive health benefits, but very little is known about how they actually work.’

The supplement industry is booming in the US, with more than half of the population taking them regularly and spending $1.5 billion annually.

Britons spend £430 million a year on vitamin or mineral pills, with an estimated 20million taking some form of supplement every day.

A number of studies in recent months have shown that many popular supplements do not cause noticeable health changes, despite big claims on their packaging.


Nicotinamide riboside, or niagen, is an alternative form of vitamin B3.

It is promoted as an anti-aging supplement because it boosts your body’s levels of NAD, which acts as fuel for many key biological processes.

It is also thought to help with liver and brain function, aid weight loss and promote health muscle aging.

However, there is no robust scientific evidence to support these claims.

NR is found in fruits, vegetables, meat, milk, yeast and beer.

It comes in capsule or tablet form  and can be obtained online or in health food stores.

Sometimes it is combined with other ingredients such as antioxidants.

Most brands recommend a dosage of 250-300 mg per, which is around 1-2 capsules.

The researchers used bioluminescence – light emitted by living things through chemical reactions in their bodies – to develop a technique to measure NR uptake in mice.

The presence of NR is shown with light, and the brighter the light is, the more NR is present.

Mice with cancer were injected with nicotinamide riboside, and then photographed using a special light sensor camera.

The researchers monitored their cancer cells, T cells (a type of white blood cell) and healthy tissue.

NR increased the spreading of cancer cells to the brain in nine out of 11 mice, compared to only three out of 12 mice in the control group not given the supplement.

The researchers also saw a three-fold increase in light in activated T cells, as well as increased NAD+ levels.

This combination suggests that T cells transport NR into cells, giving them more energy for cancer cells to feed off.

They also applied the technique to breast cancer cells, and found that high levels of NR can worsen the risk of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).

The researchers said: ‘Our data revealed that NR supplementation causes a significant increase in cancer prevalence in the TNBC mouse model.

‘Moreover, we observed a dramatic increase in the rate of brain metastases, further indicating an important role of NR in cancer progression.’

Brain metastases occur when cancer cells spread from their original location to the brain. Once the cancer reaches the brain, the results are fatal because no viable treatment options exist at this time, Dr Goun said.

She added: ‘Our work is especially important given the wide commercial availability and a large number of ongoing human clinical trials where NR is used to mitigate the side effects of cancer therapy in patients.’

More investigation into potential side effects of the supplements is needed, she said.

She was inspired to dig into how cancer spreads in the body after her father passed away at 59-years-old, just three months after he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

The study was published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.


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