As COVID-19 swept the cities with pneumonia-like illness, infecting millions of people worldwide, scientists are on the hunt for a safe and effective cure. Gerontologist, scientists who study the biology of aging, believe that therapeutics that target aging may provide a new angle to tackle the pandemic.
Statistics have shown that COVID-19 disproportionately infects older adults. About 13.4 percent of patients 80 or older die from COVID-19, compared to 1.25 percent and 0.06 percent of those in their 50s and 20s. A recent study from the University of Oxford that analyzed 17.4 million UK adults showed age is the most substantial risk factor associated with COVID-19 death. Other risk factors include being male, uncontrolled diabetes and severe asthma.
Given the gerolavic nature – harmful to the old – of the virus, some gerontologists claim that treating “aging” can be a long term solution to defend older adults from COVID-19 and other future infectious diseases. Although more study needs to be done, a recent study listed NAD+ boosting agents such as NMN and NR as one of the potential treatments. Other scientists also hypothesized that older adults might benefit from NAD+’s longevity effects and prevent the deadly over-activation of immune responses called a cytokine storm, in which the body attacks its cells rather than the virus.
The cell uses up NAD+ during the fight against coronavirus, weakening our body, according to a recent study that has not been peer-reviewed. NAD+ is essential for innate immune defense against viruses. The researchers of the study are trying to assess whether NAD+ boosters can help humans beat the pandemic.
While scientists are in the lab racing time to find a cure for COVID-19, physicians on the front lines running out of options turn to innovative techniques. As a last resort to treat his patients, doctor Robert Huizenga of Cedars Sinai Medical Center administered an NMN cocktail infused with boosters like zinc to the patient to calm the cytokine storm stirred up by COVID-19. The NMN cocktail brought down the patients’ fever and inflammation levels within 12 hours.
During the pandemic, NMN is receiving more and more attention for its role in maintaining the immune system balance, which may be a possible treatment for the coronavirus-caused cytokine storm. With the preliminary studies showing some positive results, although not a guaranteed cure, many scientists and physicians believe the NAD+ booster’s effect on COVID-19 is worth investigating.
NAD+ is the fuel that helps sirtuins sustain genome integrity and promote DNA repair. Like a car cannot drive without fuel, sirtuins’ activation requires NAD+. Results from animal studies showed that raising NAD+ level in the body activates sirtuins and increases the lifespans of yeast, worms and mice. Although animal studies showed promising results in anti-aging properties, scientists are still studying how these results can translate to humans.
NAD+ is one of the keys to maintaining healthy mitochondrial functions and steady energy output. Aging and high-fat diet reduces the level of NAD+ in the body. Studies have shown that taking NAD+ boosters can alleviate diet-associated and age-associated weight gain in mice and improve their exercise capacity, even in aged mice. Other studies even reversed the diabetes effect in female mice, showing new strategies to fight metabolic disorders, such as obesity.
Boosting NAD+ levels protects the heart and improves cardiac functions. High blood pressure can cause an enlarged heart and blocked arteries that lead to strokes. In mice, NAD+ boosters have replenished NAD+ levels in the heart and prevented injuries to the heart caused by a lack of blood flow. Other studies have shown that NAD+ boosters can protect mice from abnormal heart enlargement.
In mice with Alzheimer’s, raising the NAD+ level can decrease protein build up that disrupts cell communication in the brain to increase cognitive function. Boosting NAD+ levels also protects brain cells from dying when there’s insufficient blood flow to the brain. Many studies in animal models present new prospects of helping the brain age healthily, defending against neurodegeneration and improving memory.
As adults get older the immune system declines, people get ill more easily, and it becomes harder for people to bounce back from illnesses such as the seasonal flu, or even COVID-19. Recent studies have suggested that NAD+ levels play an important role in regulating inflammation and cell survival during the immune response and aging. The study underscored the therapeutic potential of NAD+ for immune dysfunction.