New Wonder Drug! Niacin?

You're probably as sick of reading about the things that will extend life as I am about writing about them. 

But the latest wonder drug is niacin, a simple ingredient that's in cereal, only now it's being touted as a life-extending elixir that will increase your lifespan by 10%, at least according to Let's get to the best part of all.  The Web site reports that it can even fool your body into thinking it's exercised.

"In experiments with roundworms, the nutrient was shown to extend a subject’s lifespan by 10 percent," John Ericson writes. He says the international research team behind the discovery believes that the findings may hold true for us, too, as "the roundworm’s metabolic pathway is similar across many other organisms."

The last time I looked, I wasn't a roundworm. 

But it's not all peaches and cream for niacin.  Apparently what the nutrient can, and can't, do has long been the topic of controversy between scientists because it contradicts traditional knowledge about antioxidants, which were also thought to be the miracle drug not so long ago.

According to the National Institutes of Health, niacin is a type of B-vitamin that promotes the function of nerves, skin, and the digestive system. It also helps convert food into energy. Niacin occurs naturally in a wide variety foods, including eggs, dairy products, fish, poultry, and legumes. A chronic lack of niacin can lead to pellagra, a vitamin deficiency disease.

Niacin supposedly promotes the formation of free radicals, which then damage somatic cells.  This damage, known as oxidative stress, is what antioxidants are generally thought to neutralize.

"The claim that intake of antioxidants, especially in tablet form, promotes any aspect of human health lacks scientific support," study author Michael Ristow said in a press release, according to "Fruit and vegetables are healthy, despite the fact that they contain antioxidants. Cells can cope well with oxidative stress and neutralize it.”

Ristow says the cells can take care of themselves.  And it's the oxidative stress that may have an effect similar to exercise on the body. "Niacin tricks the body into believing that it is exercising -- even when this is not the case," Ristow explains to Ericson.

So should we take niacin?  The jury's still out.  I've always believed that if you have a good diet, exercise and sleep enough, the body will pretty much take care of itself, too, and you'll live just as long as you're meant to.


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