YOUTH NOW

Drowning in the Fountain of Youth

The fight over a promising longevity supplement keeps getting worse

Emily Mullin
Elemental
Published in
9 min readSep 24, 2018

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Illustration: Benedikt Luft

TTwo companies are convinced they’ve hit the anti-aging jackpot—and you can already buy their products online. ChromaDex and Elysium Health both sell supplements, called Tru Niagen and Basis, respectively, which are readily available for around $40 a bottle. Though the product labels make vague claims about cellular optimization and better aging, what they really purport to do is restore levels of a compound called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD.

As people and animals grow older, NAD levels naturally decline. Some researchers reason that restoring those levels could help stave off some of the effects of aging and potentially prolong our lives. ChromaDex and Elysium Health both sell the pill form of a molecule called nicotinamide riboside—or NR for short—which has been shown to boost NAD levels. The companies are founded by distinguished scientists and backed by billionaire investors and Nobel Laureates who say they take the pills daily. They’re testing their products through clinical trials to prove the supplements provide real health benefits for a variety of conditions, from improving cognition to preventing kidney injury and more.

“The whole industry is just a promise.”

They’re also embroiled in a messy legal battle, after a once-cordial collaboration soured.

As the NAD field heats up, everyone involved has a lot to prove, not just to lawyers and courts—but to consumers. The fact that NAD-related supplements are being sold before research can determine that they’re beneficial has spurred plenty of criticism. After all, scientists don’t actually know whether boosting NAD levels has any benefits for people.

“The whole industry is just a promise,” says Eric Verdin, an aging researcher and CEO of the Buck Institute for Aging in California, who argues that when companies sell their products as supplements rather than waiting for the drug approval process (which he plans to do), it “jeopardizes serious research into determining whether they are effective or not.”

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Emily Mullin
Elemental

Former staff writer at Medium, where I covered biotech, genetics, and Covid-19 for OneZero, Future Human, Elemental, and the Coronavirus Blog.