There is a lot of confusion online as to whether NMN (nicotinamide mononucleotide) can increase the risk for cancer.
To that point, it’s essential to state that there are no studies demonstrating that NMN can cause cancer.
In fact, based on how NMN works, it could actually reduce the risk of cancer. Let’s explore how, as well as why there has been confusion over this topic.
What’s good for normal cells is also good for cancer cells
NMN does not cause cancer.
However, if one already has cancer, NMN could theoretically accelerate cancer growth, just like many other substances that are necessary for proper cell function, like B vitamins, zinc, iron, glucose, amino acids from protein, etc.
This makes sense: substances that are good for normal healthy cells will also be good for growth-hungry cancer cells.
Take for example, folate, a B vitamin. Folate is a very important vitamin, needed to build DNA, which is required for healthy cells; cancer cells need it even more.
So folate can potentially increase cancer growth when one already has cancer, but it’s important to emphasize that folate could actually reduce the risk of getting cancer in the first place.
This is because when healthy cells don’t have enough folate, they cannot make and maintain their DNA properly, which increases the risk of DNA mutations and cancer. In this case, folate deficiency could increase the risk of cancer.
Put simply, folate reduces the risk of cancer, but if one already has cancer it could accelerate the growth of that cancer.
In a similar vein, many other healthy substances that cells need to function properly and to prevent cancer could also theoretically accelerate cancer growth, like various other B vitamins, iron, zinc, and many other healthy or essential substances.
Of course, we want to prevent cancer in the first place. So it’s of utmost importance to properly leverage foods, supplements and other measures to reduce our risk of cancer (continued below).
NMN and cancer
The same could theoretically apply to NMN. NMN is very important for healthy cells to function properly and to protect their DNA and epigenome (R). In this way, NMN could also prevent cancer, given that mutations in the DNA (and epigenome) cause cancer.
However, taking extra NMN when one already has cancer could theoretically accelerate cancer growth, given that NMN could be used by those cells. But even that is not so certain.
Does NMN really accelerate cancer growth?
Whether NMN actually accelerates cancer growth in humans is an open question.
Some studies suggest that NMN could indeed accelerate the growth of cancerous cells. However, often these studies are conducted in very unnatural settings. For example, scientists using mice that are genetically modified to quickly develop very aggressive and lethal tumors.
On the other hand, other studies show that NMN given to mice with cancer does not accelerate cancer growth (R).
So, it’s entirely feasible for NMN to not only reduce the risk of cancer, but also to not accelerate cancer growth when one already has it.
NMN to make cancer therapy more effective
NMN could also prove to be useful in improving the outcome of cancer immunotherapies.
For example, a recent study hints at the potential of NMN to sensitize tumors to immunotherapy (R). NMN could improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy. Immunotherapy involves inducing the immune system to attack cancer cells.
What’s also interesting about this study is that the control mice with cancer receiving NMN don’t show an increase in tumor volume compared to the control mice with cancer that don’t receive NMN. This seems to indicate that NMN does not accelerate tumor growth.
Another study found that nicotinamide (a molecule similar to NMN that also increases NAD+ levels) can substantially improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy as a cancer treatment, leading to a significantly increased survival in mice (R).
According to the researchers: “Excitingly, both adoptive CAR-T and anti-PD1 immune checkpoint blockade [immunotherapy] mouse models demonstrate that NAD+ supplementation enhanced the tumor-killing efficacy of T cells. Collectively, this study reveals that […] an over-the-counter nutrient supplement of NAD+ could boost T-cell-based immunotherapy.”
Longevity studies in mice
Also telling is that longevity studies done in mice, in which mice receive NMN for a long time, find no increased risk of cancer.
Harvard Professor David Sinclair, one of the world authorities on NMN and NAD metabolism, adds the following to this:
“Both NR and NMN have been shown to benefit the health of elderly mice, and neither of these treatments show negative health effects, even in long-term mouse experiments – not in inflammation, senescence, or cancer models.”
NMN to reduce the risk of cancer
NMN has the very interesting ability to reduce DNA mutations. Various studies show that NMN supplementation significantly lowers DNA damage in human fibroblasts (R), irradiated white blood cells (R), and in organs like kidneys (R).
Given DNA mutations are a major driver in cancer formation, NMN could reduce the risk of cancer.
Additionally, other studies show that NMN enhances the function of cancer-fighting immune cells. Researchers found that administering NMN orally to mice increased NK cell activity (R). NK (Natural Killer) cells are immune cells that are specialized in seeking out and destroying cancer cells.
This is why some scientists conclude that NMN could be a promising substance for cancer prevention:
“Aging is a major risk factor for many types of cancer, and the molecular mechanisms implicated in aging, progeria syndromes, and cancer pathogenesis display considerable similarities. [… ] Administration of NAD+ precursors such as nicotinamide riboside (NR) and nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) offer promising therapeutic strategies to improve health, progeria comorbidities, and cancer therapies.” (R)
– Professor Tyler Demarest, Laboratory of Molecular Gerontology, National Institute on Aging, USA
Research indicates that NMN does not cause cancer. In fact, it’s very likely that NMN can reduce the risk of cancer, for example, by reducing DNA mutations or improving the function of immune cells that seek out and eliminate cancer cells.
In instances in which organisms already have cancer, some studies suggest that NMN could accelerate cancer growth, while other studies show that NMN does not spur cancer growth.
Other studies highlight the potential of NMN to improve the effectiveness of cancer therapies like immunotherapy.
Preventing cancer is the first and foremost goal we want to achieve for a long and healthy lifespan. NMN could be a very interesting molecule in this regard.
Learn more about NMN and longevity here.