While previous studies have linked a popular dietary supplement, nicotinamide riboside (NR), a form of vitamin B3, with benefits related to cardiovascular, metabolic and neurological health, new research from the University of Missouri (MU), USA, has found that NR could increase the risk of serious diseases, including cancer.

The international team of researchers led by Elena Goun, associate professor of chemistry at MU, found that this popular dietary supplement in high amounts could not only increase someone’s risk of developing triple-negative breast cancer, but could cause it to metastasize, or spread brain cancer.

Once the cancer reaches the brain, the results are deadly because there are no viable treatment options at this point, said Goun, who is a corresponding author of the study.

A popular dietary supplement linked to increased cancer risks

“Some people take vitamins and supplements because they automatically assume that vitamins and supplements have only positive health benefits, but very little is known about how they actually work. Because of this lack of knowledge, we were inspired to study the basic questions of how vitamins and supplements work in the body,” said Goun.

After the death of her father, aged 59, just three months after being diagnosed with colon cancer, Goun set out to pursue a better scientific understanding of cancer metabolism, or the energy by which cancer spreads in organism.

Because NR is a supplement known to increase cellular energy levels, and cancer cells feed off that energy with their increased metabolism, Goun wanted to investigate the role of NR in the development and spread of cancer, he notes Medical Xpress.

“Our work is particularly important given the wide commercial availability and large number of ongoing human clinical trials in which NR is used to mitigate the side effects of cancer therapy in patients,” said Goun.

A new technology

The researchers used this technology to compare and examine how much NR levels were present in cancer cells, T cells and healthy tissues.

“While NR is already widely used in humans and is being investigated in so many ongoing clinical trials for additional applications, much of how it works is a ‘black box’ that is not understood.” Goun said.

“So this inspired us to come up with this novel imaging technique based on ultrasensitive bioluminescent imaging, which allows NR levels to be quantified in real time in a non-invasive manner. The presence of NR is indicated by light, and the brighter the light, the more NR is present,” she explains.

A step forward towards personalized medicine

Goun said the study’s findings underscore the importance of carefully investigating the potential side effects of supplements like NR before using them in people who may have different types of health conditions.

In the future, Goun would like to provide information that could lead to the development of certain inhibitors to help make therapies (such as chemotherapy) more effective against cancer. The key to this approach, Goun said, is to look at it from a personalized medicine perspective.

“Not all cancers are the same in every person, especially in terms of metabolic signatures. Cancers can often change their metabolism before or after chemotherapy,” said Goun.

The study was published in Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

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