Warning: Popular Vitamin Supplement Causes Cancer Risk and Brain Metastasis



New research finds that the popular dietary supplement nicotinamide riboside could increase the risk of serious disease, including developing cancer.

University of Missouri researchers made the discovery while using bioluminescent imaging technology to study how nicotinamide riboside supplements work inside the body.

Commercial dietary supplements like nicotinamide riboside (NR), a form of vitamin B3, were linked to benefits related to cardiovascular, metabolic, and neurological health in previous studies. However, new research from the University of Missouri (MU) has found NR could actually increase the risk of serious disease, including developing cancer.

Scientists discovered that high levels of NR could not only increase someone’s risk of developing triple-negative breast cancer, but also could cause the cancer to metastasize or spread to the brain. The international team of researchers was led by Elena Goun, an associate professor of chemistry at MU and the corresponding author on the study. She said that once the cancer reaches the brain, the results are deadly because no viable treatment options exist at this time.

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

Following the death of her 59-year-old father only three months after being diagnosed with colon cancer, Goun was moved by her father’s passing to pursue a better scientific understanding of cancer metabolism, or the energy through which cancer spreads in the body. Since NR is a known supplement for helping increase levels of cellular energy, and cancer cells feed off of that energy with their increased metabolism, Goun wanted to investigate NR’s role in the development and spread of cancer.

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

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 being widely used in people and is being investigated in so many ongoing clinical trials for additional applications, much of how NR works is a black box — it’s not understood,” Goun said. “So that inspired us to come up with this novel imaging technique based on ultrasensitive bioluminescent imaging that allows quantification of NR levels in real time in a non-invasive manner. The presence of NR is shown with light, and the brighter the light is, the more NR is present.”

Goun said the findings of the study emphasize the importance of having careful investigations of potential side effects for supplements like NR prior to their use in people who may have different types of health conditions. In the future, Goun would like to provide information that could potentially lead to the development of certain inhibitors to help make cancer therapies like chemotherapy more effective in treating cancer. The key to this approach, Goun said, is to look at it from a personalized medicine standpoint.

“Not all cancers are the same in every person, especially from the standpoint of metabolic signatures,” Goun said. “Often times cancers can even change their metabolism before or after chemotherapy.”