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Niacin could help with early onset Parkinson’s disease

January 13 2017. A study reported on December 23, 2016 in Biology Open suggests a benefit for niacin (vitamin B3) in the treatment of early stage Parkinson’s disease. The research involved fruit flies with a mutation which results in a condition similar to human Parkinson’s disease. L. Miguel Martins and colleagues at the University of Leicester fed the flies a diet supplemented with niacin, which is a precursor to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), a coenzyme needed for the generation of energy in the cells’ mitochondria. NAD also helps protect neurons from degeneration.

"Parkinson's disease occurs when dopaminergic neurons in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra are lost,” Dr Martins explained. “This can happen for a variety of reasons, but in some hereditary cases, the main problem is unhealthy mitochondria - the organelles that power the cell.”

“Mutations in genes such as PINK1 prevent cells from clearing out the defective powerhouses,” he continued. “When they accumulate, neurons can't get enough energy and die. The faulty mitochondria also release toxic molecules that damage their genes encoded by DNA.” "Curiously enough, there's a compound in the body that's important for both energy generation and DNA repair,” Dr Martins noted. ”It's called NAD. With all the mitochondrial damage going on, we wondered if in cases of Parkinson's the molecule ends up in short supply."

Flies with the PINK1 mutation that received niacin had fewer faulty mitochondria and less neuron loss compared to those that did not receive the vitamin. Blocking DNA repair from depleting NAD resulted in healthier mitochondria and greater neuron survival, as well as longer lifespan.

"This study strengthens the therapeutic potential for vitamin B3/niacin-based dietary interventions in the treatment of Parkinson's disease" Dr Martins concluded. "The results suggest that in familial Parkinson's, available NAD is critical for keeping mitochondria in shape and the disease at bay. Drugs that block NAD-consuming DNA repair already exist to treat cancer. Loading up on niacin probably can't hurt either.”