Cover Photo: LifeHub

A cutting-edge new treatment is being described by some as a “fountain of youth”, capable of reversing the signs of ageing and making us sharper and more energetic. We try boosting our NAD levels to see what the fuss is about

The 7 billion-plus people on the planet are a pretty diverse bunch. But one thing, maybe the only thing, that unites us all is that none of us is getting any younger—and we’re all trying to fight that inevitability in one way or another. We hate getting older. 

Hence the rapidly growing anti-ageing industry, valued at over US$200 billion today and expected to be double that by 2030. From anti-wrinkle cream to botox treatments, we’re spending more money than we have ever before to delay the ageing process.

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But that’s to prevent the appearance of ageing. What if I told you there’s a medical treatment, evidence-based and peer-reviewed, that can actually slow down the body’s natural deterioration? Oh, and it can also give you more energy, a better memory and improved cognitive function, thank you very much. You’d likely, and quite rightly, be sceptical. 

Well, we haven’t found an evidence-backed fountain of youth quite yet, but one scientist, Harvard professor of genetics David Sinclair, believes we’ve never been closer. Sinclair led a March 2017 study on a compound called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD.

NAD is found in all living cells. It’s critical for regulating cellular ageing and maintaining proper function of the whole body. Our NAD levels naturally decline over time—we’ve known this for a while. What Sinclair proved was that artificially raising levels of NAD in mice caused the ageing of tissue to reverse, leading the rodents to look and act younger, and live longer.

“Has Harvard’s David Sinclair Found the Fountain of Youth?” asked a breathless headline in Boston Magazine, in an article covering the discovery. “Is an Anti-Aging Pill on the Horizon?” asked Time.

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The short answer: we don’t know for sure yet. Since the discovery, studies have taken place in labs around the world to measure the efficacy of NAD in humans, to discover the extent to which it can lengthen life expectancy, slow the appearance of ageing, and improve cognitive function. Medical studies take a long time, and each study focuses on NAD’s impact on one particular metric, in one particular group of people, so it may be another few years before we have a clearer picture of exactly what NAD can do. 

In the interim, Silicon Valley biohackers have wasted no time, enticed by the purported benefits to boost energy and prevent burnout. Winston Ibrahim, CEO of water filtration startup Hydros, is one of them, telling Business Insider: “You are literally giving your body and brain the optimum, most bio-available fuel to power peak energy and performance.”

Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing was another early adopter of NAD. In 2017, his Horizons Ventures invested US$25 million into ChromaDex, the Nasdaq-listed dietary supplement company behind a patented supplement, Tru Niagen, that contains the compound nicotinamide riboside (NR), which boosts the body’s natural level of NAD. The 92-year-old Li reportedly takes Tru Niagen himself.

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LifeHub, a Hong Kong wellness centre co-founded by Gen.T honouree Candice Chan, has recently started offering "NAD boosters", which administer another molecule—nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN), which is also converted to NAD in the body—through an IV drip. Chan describes LifeHub as a “Starbucks for healthcare” in that they want to make preventative medicine accessible, affordable and transparent, with no hidden costs. 

“We are an evidence-based wellness centre that provides doctor-backed treatments and products to help urbanites achieve optimal health,” says Chan. “We help people with things like sleep, gut health, weight management or skin problems.”

True to its description, LifeHub’s treatments are available for all to see, price included, on backlit boards as you enter the clinic, much like a branch of Starbucks. The menu includes IV drips and treatments such as infrared saunas, as well as tests to measure food tolerance or even, one of the clinic’s latest offerings, a biological age report, which Chan invites me to try. 

The test uses AI to establish your “biological age”, based on 44 biometrics measured from a blood sample that determine your level of health compared to your “chronological age”. As a 36-year-old, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. I’m already too close to 40 for my liking; I didn’t want to reach the milestone prematurely.

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It’s already been proven as a remedy for addiction, depression and Alzheimers, as well as chronic fatigue syndrome—these are well researched and backed

Thankfully, the doctor who delivered my results in a post-test consultation had good news: my body is 32, which is an easily understandable way to communicate that I “have lower health risks compared to normal” for people of my age. 

Needless to say I was pretty satisfied, but also curious to see if I could slice off another three years and relive my 20s, so I booked myself in for an NAD booster.

“As for the effects, everyone takes to the treatment differently”, says a spokesperson from LifeHub. “In the short term, people tend to report having more energy and better memory, cognitive function and focus,” says the spokesperson. “Some people don’t feel anything, and others say it’s like drinking a Red Bull without the jitters. For me, there was a noticeable effect on my memory.”

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Referring to the ongoing research into NAD, the spokesperson acknowledges that there’s still some ways to go before we can call NAD a verifiable elixir of life, but there’s plenty of areas where NAD has already shown promising results in medical trials. “It’s already been proven as a remedy for addiction, depression and Alzheimers, as well as chronic fatigue syndrome—these are well researched and backed.”

As for me, I definitely felt sharper, brighter and more energetic in the 48 hours after my first NMN IV drip. But younger? I think I’ll need a few more sessions before that starts to kick in. I hate getting older.

See more honourees from the Wellness category of the Gen.T List 2020.

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