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Vitamin B3 prevents glaucoma in mice and possibly even in humans

Vitamin B3 prevents glaucoma in mice and possibly even in humansMice that are genetically predisposed to glaucoma may avoid the eye disease if vitamin B3 is added to their drinking water. This was seen in a study that is published in the journal Science. The scientists behind the study say that vitamin B3 was surprisingly effective at eliminating the molecular alterations that normally occur with age-related glaucoma. They even see the vitamin as an inexpensive and potentially powerful tool for preventing this disease in the future. People should make sure to get plenty of vitamin B3, and it is also important to know that imbalanced diets, alcohol abuse, and the use of diuretics may easily result in a deficiency of the nutrient.

Glaucoma is one of the most common neurodegenerative ailments and affects about 80 million people worldwide. Glaucoma is a common term for several diseases that share one common trait: They cause changes to the optic nerve that leads nerve fibers from the retina to the visual center of the brain. These changes may eventually affect the visual field. In severe cases, the visual field may become that narrow, it feels like looking through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars.
Chronic age-related glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma. During the first year, the disease normally does not cause any symptoms. In some cases, the vision on one eye starts to deteriorate because the visual impairment of the right and left eye is not simultaneous. The eye doctor is able to observe the changes in the optimal nerve by using a special instrument (ophthalmoscope) without physically touching the eye. Elevated fluid pressure in the eye also affects the development of the condition. Ageing increases the risk of developing glaucoma, and increased fluid pressure and other factors may cause the optic nerve cells to become more vulnerable.

Neurodegenerative diseases cause a loss of nerve cells and/or neurological functions

Why does age affect our eyes?

The study was carried out at the Jackson Laboratory in the United States. Professor Simon W. M. John who headed the study and his team of researchers wanted to identify those factors that are related to the age-related changes of the eye, and which render nerve cells vulnerable. The scientists carried out a battery of tests on mice, which were genetically predisposed to developing glaucoma. These tests were compared to tests conducted on mice that were not predisposed. The researchers tested the animals’ metabolism, nervous system, and various other functions and found that the molecule, NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), was particularly likely to deteriorate with increasing age. NAD is of vital importance to the energy metabolism in nerve cells and other cells, and other studies have found that NAD is also important for DNA repair in these cells.

Lack of NAD causes “engine problems”

Professor John compares the damaged nerve cells to an old, battered motorbike that is still able to run, although it is far less reliable. Also, it tends to stall and is much more likely to skid on the road when driving around a bend.
In a similar manner, decreased amounts of NAD and the impairment of the molecule has a negative impact on the functions and reliability of the nerve cells. This may lower their energy turnover and leave them increasingly vulnerable to elevated fluid pressure and oxidative stress in the eye.

Vitamin B3 boosts NAD, which strengthens and repairs nerve cells

The researchers behind the mouse studies added vitamin B3 to the animals’ drinking water for a very specific reason. It is known that vitamin B3 (also called nicotinamide and niacinamide) is converted into NAD in the body. In other words, vitamin B3 (by means of NAD) helps boost the energy turnover and DNA repair in nerve cells. At the same time, nerve cells become more robust and are therefore able to stay healthy, even when fluid pressure in the eye increases.

Gene therapy

The scientists even developed a simple type of gene therapy by modifying the mice genetically so they were able to convert vitamin B3 into NAD. That way, they were also able to prevent the mice from developing glaucoma. According to the research team, there may be compliance problems that prevent some older people from taking their medicine every day and in the correct dose. Gene therapy in the form of an injection may therefore represent an interesting alternative.

Vitamin B3 as part of the future treatment

In the future, the researchers plan to test the effect of using vitamin B3 supplements as part of the treatment of glaucoma in humans. They even see a great potential for using the nutrient in the treatment of other neurodegenerative diseases. A study, which is described on, shows that patients with early stages of Parkinson’s disease may benefit from increasing their intake of vitamin B3, either from dietary sources of from supplements.

Research suggests that vitamin B3 also has an effect on other neurodegenerative ailments such as Parkinson’s disease

How do I get vitamin B3?

Good natural sources of the nutrient are protein-rich sources such as meat, fish, poultry, nuts, kernels, seeds, and eggs plus whole-grain products, vegetables, and fruit.
Because vitamin B3 is water-soluble and does not get stored in the body, it is necessary to ingest the nutrient regularly or rely on the body’s own production of vitamin B3 from tryptophan and vitamin B6.

Deficiencies and poor utilization of the vitamin are mainly caused by

  • unbalanced diets and long-term dieting
  • ageing processes
  • limited food intake (elderly people)
  • overconsumption of alcohol
  • long-term use of diuretics
You get the best absorption and utilization of vitamin B3 supplements by taking them together with other B vitamins. Diuretics should not be ingested at the same time as vitamin B3


Jackson Laboratory. Vitamin B3 prevents glaucoma in laboratory mice. ScienceDaily 2017

Lehmann S. et al. Enhancing NAD salvage metabolism is neuroprotective in a Pink1 model of Parkinson´s disease. Biology Open 2016

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