We are living in an ageing world. The number of people older than 65 is inching towards the one-billion mark. Not everyone’s thrilled about this, of course — so we have a big and growing market for anti-ageing products (expected to grow from $60.42 billion in 2021 to $120 billion by 2030). Are they safe?

A recent paper titled ‘Nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) as an anti-ageing health product — Promises and safety concerns’, published by a group of researchers from China and New Zealand, has raised several concerns.

We age because of a process called ‘mitochondrial decay’. Mitochondria are part of our cells and responsible for producing energy, hence they are the ‘powerhouses’ of our bodies.

Over time, mitochondria are unable to produce enough energy since there is a dip in the levels of a biochemical called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) in them; this happens because the NAD+ are consumed by enzymes such as NADase and sirtuins. Depletion of NAD+ is also associated with oxidative stress, DNA damage, and cognitive impairments.

The trick in anti-ageing is, therefore, to keep NAD+ levels steady. Now, NAD+ is derived from another chemical called nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN), which is a bioactive nucleotide formed when a nucleoside comprising nicotinamide and ribose reacts with a phosphate group.

Profit over safety

NMN can be industrially produced as a food supplement that brings several benefits in addition to anti-ageing — it helps combat obesity and associated complications, Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral and cardiac ischemia, and type-2 diabetes, note the authors of the paper.

These days, NMN products are marketed as supplements for anti-ageing and longevity in the form of capsules with dosages exceeding 500 mg. The safety of these doses cannot be assessed since there have been no clinical or toxicological studies.

“Excessive demand of consumers and high profit margin for manufacturers are the major driving force behind the release of anti-ageing health products without adequate safety testing,” the paper says. There is no regulatory authority for NMN products as they are often sold as a food product rather than heavily regulated therapeutic drug.