Correction: This story has been updated to properly attribute findings from a study on the effects of nicotinamide riboside.
TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A study by researchers at the University of Missouri found that taking a popular vitamin supplement may contribute to risks of brain cancer.
The vitamin, called nicotinamide riboside, or NR for short, is a variant of B3. Taking the nutritional pill may lead to increased chances of breast cancer and brain metastasis, according to the study‘s results. Metastasis is when cancer cells spread through the body, causing multiple tumorous growths beyond an initial location.
Known for its suggested benefits to metabolism, brain health, and cardiovascular systems, NR is sometimes referred to as an “anti-aging” vitamin. A 2020 study by researchers from Switzerland, Belgrade and the UK cited evidence of NR’s anti-inflammatory effects that implied “additional mechanisms” to potentially “modulate the aging process and thereby exhibit life-prolonging effects.”
“While the exact mechanisms through which NR exerts these effects remain unclear, the apparent health benefits described indicate positive effects of NR on longevity,” the study’s authors stated.
However, new research from an international group of scientists and chemists found that high levels of NR could also lead to an increased risk of developing cancer.
According to the University of Missouri’s announcement on the study’s results, “NR could not only increase someone’s risk of developing triple-negative breast cancer, but also could cause the cancer to metastasize or spread to the brain.”
Elena Goun, an associate professor of chemistry at MU and one of the study’s authors, said when cancer reaches the brain, the results are deadly because there aren’t any viable treatments available.
“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,” Goun said. “Because of this lack of knowledge, we were inspired to study the basic questions surrounding how vitamins and supplements work in the body.”
The higher risk of metastatic brain cancer was revealed by Goun’s work investigating NR’s impact on cancer’s spread. Using bioluminescent-based probes, Goun and the study’s other authors were able to see how NR affected cancer growth.
Using the bioluminescent technology, the researchers were able to examine the presence of NR with light, noting that “the brighter the light is, the more NR is present” in certain types of cells, including cancer cells.
“While NR is already being widely used in people and is being investigated in so many ongoing clinical trials for additional applications, much of how NR works is a black box — it’s not understood,” Goun said. “So that inspired us to come up with this novel imaging technique based on ultrasensitive bioluminescent imaging that allows quantification of NR levels in real time in a non-invasive manner.”
According to Goun, the study findings show the “importance of having careful investigations” of side effects from supplements in people with different health conditions.
A Food and Drug Administration spokesperson told Nexstar that dietary supplements such as nicotinamide riboside fall under a different set of regulations than those covering prescription and over-the-counter medicine. Under existing law, the FDA must find that the product is adulterated or misbranded to pull it from the market.
For most people, sufficient levels of Niacin, or vitamin B3, are consumed naturally through a wide variety of foods that include beef, fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, grains, rice and more. The National Institutes of Health recommends that adult men have 16 mg of Niacin per day, on average, with 14 mg recommended for women.
A cup of marinara sauce, or three ounces of chicken breast, for example, both carry 10.3 mg of B3, according to the NIH.