A new study shows that patients with early stages of Parkinson’s disease may benefit from getting more vitamin B3 from their diet or from supplements. This is because the nutrient supports cellular energy turnover and helps repair damaged nerve cell DNA. It is vital to get sufficient amounts of vitamin B3 as part of the prevention of the much-dreaded disease.
Parkinson’s disease, one of the most common chronic disorders of the nervous system, is characterized by destruction of the nerve cells. This insidious disease normally appears around the age of 50-70 years. The symptoms are caused by a lack of the neurotransmitter dopamine. The brain constantly uses dopamine to control various movements and constantly produces and breaks down dopamine in an end-less loop. In patients with Parkinson’s disease, the production of dopamine is reduced due to the damaged nerve cells. This is how the shortage occurs. Parkinson’s symptoms include uncontrollable tremor, muscle stiffness, slow movements, poor balance, fatigue, and an impaired ability to control facial expressions.
Lack of vitamin B3 or poor utilization of the nutrient occurs as a result of consuming an unbalanced diet, overconsuming alcohol, antacids, and diuretics (which many older people take).
Damaged nerve cell mitochondria
The team of researchers from the University of Leicester in England studied fruit flies that had a gene mutation, which emulated the human disease. Their research identified a mechanism that affects the brain during the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, and the results point to various kinds of medicine that can help this group of patients.
Miguel Martins, a neurologist who headed the study, explains that nerve cells in the brain are destroyed for different reasons. In some cases, the main problem is that the energy-producing powerhouses (mitochondria) of the cells are either dysfunctional or destroyed. Because of the large energy turnover in the brain, it is vital to have effective mitochondria in the nerve cells. Also, the mitochondria have several other functions inside the cells that are important for their ability to carry out different tasks.
Mitochondria help control the following:
- Energy turnover
- Cell division
- Calcium signaling
- Apoptosis (programmed cell death or self-destruction of damaged and diseased cells)
Mitochondrial gene protects against Parkinson’s disease
PINK1 is a gene inside the mitochondria that controls the quality of the mitochondria and protects them against dysfunctions. PINK1 is able to identify destroyed mitochondria, prevent destruction, and generate various types of activity in nerve cells. However, if the PINK1 gene itself mutates, it is no longer able to protect against mitochondrial damage, and if the problem accumulates, the mitochondria can no longer produce energy or carry out any of their other functions. The destroyed mitochondria also release toxic molecules that can do additional damage to nerve cell DNA and block the nerve cells’ production of dopamine. In many patients with Parkinson’s disease the PINK1 gene is unable to protect the mitochondria against stress-induced dysfunctions. It would therefore be desirable to support the PINK1 gene, thereby helping it to protect both mitochondria and nerve cells. This approach could be used as both a preventative and therapeutic strategy.
Vitamin B3 (niacin) activates NAD that protects mitochondria and nerve cells
The researchers point to a substance in the body called NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), which is important for both energy turnover and DNA repair. They even speculate whether Parkinson’s patients lack this substance.
In order to investigate this, the fruit flies were given mutated PINK1 together with vitamin B3, which is converted into NAD in the body. It turned out that these fruit flies had fewer damaged mitochondria compared with fruit flies who got the same diet but without vitamin B3. It also turned out that vitamin B3 was able to prevent the loss of nerve cells in the fruit flies.
Afterwards, the neurologists investigated whether NAD was able to protect the fruit flies against Parkinson’s disease by stepping up DNA repair. By activating NAD with vitamin B3, the researchers discovered that they could switch on the function that keeps mitochondria and nerve cells alive. This improved the strength, mobility, and lifespan of the fruit flies.
A new way to prevent and treat
According to Miguel Martins, the study results suggest that adequate amounts of NAD are a determining factor for mitochondrial health and the prevention of Parkinson’s disease. In support of this, it is relevant to mention that is not harmful to consume more niacin (vitamin B3) to increase NAD levels. Although vitamin B3 alone does not cure the disease, the vitamin is likely to improve the outcome of conventional treatment in those Parkinson’s patients who have mitochondrial defects.
How to get enough vitamin B3
Vitamin B3 is water-soluble. Because we are unable to store it in the body, we need to consume the vitamin regularly. Alternatively, we can synthesize it in the body in a process that includes tryptophan and vitamin B6. Good sources of vitamin B3 are protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, poultry, nuts, kernels, seeds, eggs, whole-grain, vegetables, and fruit.
Vitamin B3 supplements should ideally be taken together with other B vitamins. In order to achieve the best absorption and utilization of the B vitamins they should not be taken with antacids.
Consider taking a Q10 supplement
Coenzyme Q10 is involved in the energy turnover of the mitochondria and is at the same time a powerful antioxidant that protects mitochondria against oxidative stress.
University of Leicester. People with forms of early-onset Parkinson’s disease may benefit from boosting niacin in diet, research suggest. ScienceDaily. 2017
Lehmann S. et al. Enhancing NAD salvage metabolism is neuroprotective in a Pink1 model of Parkinson´s disease. Biology Open 2016