Last year the MIT technology review covered a nutraceutical company called Elysium Health that has launched a product called "Basis" which has been marketed as an "anti-ageing pill." Thus far, it's gotten a lot of hype from different media sources, and if one hasn't noticed, "anti-ageing" is one of those ubiquitous marketing terms that describes everything from cosmetics to clothes, and one of the top terms used to describe virtually any product in the United States and the U.K.
Elysium Health's packaging of its nutraceutical supplement resembles a luxury cosmetics brand, perhaps hoping to capture the same demographic that spends hundreds of pounds a year on luxury cosmetics.
Although Elysium Health is a young startup, that is curiously branded like a luxury cosmetics company, with an MIT-educated scientist as one of the founders to give the perception of added legitimacy (who also had previously had been involved with a pharmaceutical company that eventually was acquired by GlaxoSmithKline), I was curious about exactly what was in this "anti-ageing" pill.
On the website, the "Basis" pill is formulated with 2 ingredients: Nicotinamide Riboside and Pterostilbene. According to the FDA, and the European Commission, all dietary supplements have to disclose the dosage of each ingredient in the label. On the Elysium Health website, I was able to browse their label:
Essentially 1 capsule has the equivalent of 125mg Nicotinamide Riboside and 25mg Pterostilbene.
Nicotinamide Riboside (NR) is a form of vitamin B3 that is a precursor to Nicotinamide adeninine dinucleotide [NAD+ (oxidized form) and NADH (reduced form)] which is a coenzyme found in all living cells. Forms of vitamin B3 include Nicotinic Acid (Na, also called Niacin), Nicotinamide (Nam, also called Niacinamide) and Nicotinamide riboside (NR).
NAD+/NADH has been studied for decades, and related to cellular energy and regeneration. Melatonin also preserves NADH levels under oxidative stress.
Cigarettes also contain nicotine (the supposedly "addictive" ingredient that has been given a bad rep in the media) which actually turns into nicotinamide or niacinamide in the body, increasing a feeling of relaxation and calmness. Of course, cigarettes also have other toxins and chemicals such as bleach, that lead to accelerated cellular damage; however the nicotine itself in cigarettes is probably not all different from taking a niacin supplement.
The "addictive" ingredient in cigarettes is nicotine- a precursor to nicotinamide, a form of vitamin B3 that releases a feeling of relaxation in the body.
This might all seem a little confusing, but the bottom line is that many forms of vitamin B3 lead to accelerated healing and a feeling of well-being in the body, whilst melatonin and tryptophan preserve the NADH levels in the body during oxidative stress.
The other ingredient in Elysium Health's Basis pill is pterostilbene. Pterostilbene is a phenol that is chemically related to resveratrol, which is present in red wine and grapes and other fruits that is supposedly an anti-oxidant. Resveratrol is a controversial supplement because it is correlated with kidney damage in high dosages. GlaxoSmithKline also halted further development of a resveratrol drug in 2010 because many patients in its clinical trials developed kidney failure. Of course, they were given 5000mg of resveratrol a day, which is an extraordinarily high dosage, and it could be that smaller dosages are actually optimal, but I have taken this supplement before in small dosages for a short period and I personally did not like it.
Instead, I think that eating blueberries and mulberries or even drinking red wine would have a much more optimal effect on the body as the body metabolises blueberries in a way that only the nutrient amount that is needed is absorbed, therefore bypassing resveratrol toxicity. In a similar way, the body does the same when we eat carrots and absorb beta carotene, and only the specific amount that the body needs is converted to vitamin A, bypassing vitamin A toxicity.
So the question is, is there an anti-ageing pill? The most likely answer is no. However, there are supplements that promote longevity by decreasing oxidative stress in cells and also lengthens telomeres- such as melatonin; and also vitamin B3, which protects telomeres. A telomere is a compound structure at the end of a chromosome, and the shortening of telomeres is what leads to cellular ageing and death.
Elysium Health's Basis pill appears to me, an expensive version of what is already available on the market today. If we do a price comparison:
Basis- 1 month supply (60 pills-2xday) $50
I also think eating a healthy diet full of the colours of the rainbow- with lots of fruit and vegetables and fresh juices is actually more efficient in absorbing nutrients than taking a bunch of supplements. When I was doing my undergraduate degree, my diet at that time consisted of Caffé Mochas in the morning and afternoon, cereal for breakfast and perhaps a bagel for dinner. This lack of nutrition and high consumption of caffeine lead to sleeping disturbances and feelings of depression and anxiety and when I was referred to university health, no one asked me about my diet; instead they sent me to see the university psychiatrist who was quick to put me on a cocktail of anti-depressants, ADHD and anti-anxiety meds after talking to me for 5 minutes.
However, curiously at the time, I was attracted to melatonin and began taking melatonin 10mg nightly, and eventually stopped all the other medications. As a consequence, I recovered from malnutrition, and the other malnutrition-related behavioural disorders I had been suffering from at the time. In addition to lengthening telomeres, melatonin regulates the circadian rhythm and enhances DNA repair, and boosts the production of serotonin during the day, which leads to an elevated feeling of well-being. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that is also responsible for the regeneration of the brain during sleep.
I think it is important to know that a single pill isn't going to solve anyone's problems. It really is a combination of exercise, diet and personalised nutrition and supplementation that leads to overall good health.
[Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose nor treat any diseases and are solely the opinions of the author.]