Study finds potential benefits of vitamin B3

Researchers have discovered that nicotinamide riboside, a form of vitamin B3, may boost energy in nerve cells and help prevent them being lost in Parkinson's.

The researchers, based in Germany, used both brain cells grown in the lab and fruit flies that carried a change in the glucocerebrosidase (GBA) gene — which is one of the more common genetic changes found in people with Parkinson's. 

The study, published in Cell Reports, highlights that nicotinamide riboside could help protect dopamine-producing brain cells by boosting the energy producing mitochondria in these models of Parkinson's.

The different forms of vitamin B3

There are 3 forms of vitamin B3 — niacin (also known as nicotinic acid), nicotinamide, and nicotinamide riboside. All 3 are related and used by the body in the same way.

As the body cannot store this vitamin, having a healthy diet that contains adequate vitamin B3 is essential. Fortunately, it is found in many different foods including turkey, tuna, cereal, mushrooms and peanuts.

While much of the previous research into vitamin B3 in Parkinson's has focused on the potential benefits of niacin, this research used the nicotinamide riboside form of vitamin B3. The new results suggest that this form of the vitamin may also have beneficial effects in Parkinson's.

A problem with mitochondria

Researchers have discovered that in some cells affected by Parkinson's the mitochondria do not work efficiently. Without enough energy cells get sick. Malfunctioning mitochondria also produce more toxic by-products that build up and damage cells. Eventually, this can lead to the loss of cells.

Therapies that improve the way mitochondria work may help to protect brain cells — potentially slowing or stopping the spread of Parkinson's. In this study, the researchers tested the effects of nicotinamide riboside on the mitochondria in the GBA carrying flies, as well as brain cells made from skin samples of people with Parkinson's who also carry this genetic change.

In the brain cells, they found that nicotinamide riboside countered the effects of malfunctioning mitochondria by boosting levels of a compound called NAD+ that is used to generate energy. They also found that the supplement reduced the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells and movement related symptoms in the fruit fly model.

Claire Bale, Head of Research Communications and Engagement, commented:

"These new findings build upon previous experiments which show how important vitamin B3 may be for keeping brain cells healthy and working properly.

"However, as with previous studies, this research was carried out in the lab using skin cells and fruit flies so we now really need to understand whether these encouraging findings hold true in people.

"There is currently a clinical trial underway in the US investigating the effect of treatment with niacin in people with Parkinson's and results are expected in late 2019.

"Some vitamins, when taken in large doses, can have side effects so it’s vital that people consult a health professional for advice before deciding to take any form of dietary supplement."

Read the full research article on the Cell Press website (PDF, 4.3MB).