A Mayo Clinic doctor and leader in alternative medicine research has teamed with a University of Minnesota professor to explore whether a vitamin supplement can boost the levels of an enzyme the brain uses to recover from concussions.

Dr. Brent Bauer, director of Mayo’s Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program, as well as its recently opened Well Living Lab in Rochester, says he and U of M magnetic resonance imaging expert Xiao Hong Zhu will be leading a pre-clinical study on college football players.

The pair will be looking into how levels of enzyme Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) fluctuates in the brains of a cohort of healthy third-year college linemen recruited for the study.

NAD is essential for cellular health and energy conversion, and lower levels of the vital enzyme are associated with concussions as the brains taps its supplies to deal with them. The study will be the first of its kind to track the changes in NAD levels of football players over a three-month period, its authors say.

A second part of the study involves the ingestion of nicotinamide riboside (NR), a vitamin B3 (niacin) metabolite naturally found in milk. The New York-based makers of a commercially available NR supplement, Thorne Research and ChromaDex Corp. (OTCQX: CDXC), are sponsoring the study and are seeking to show that NR can help boost the levels of NAD in the brain.

Higher NAD levels, the company asserts, could lead to lessened concussion symptoms. Its hope is that a positive result in the current study could lead to future clinical trials ultimately identifying NR as a natural way to manage symptoms in athletes and others with diagnosed concussions and traumatic brain injuries.

In the initial study, a group of healthy male collegiate football linemen will be given 750mg per day of the supplement, commercially available from Thorne and ChromaDex as NiaCel. Another group of players will receive a placebo. Then, using a powerful 7-Tesla magnetic scanner developed by Zhu, an associate professor at the U of M’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, the players’ NAD levels will be measured.

Should it be shown that the footballers who receive NR have higher brain levels of NAD, it could be seen as corroboration of earlier studies indicating a link between NR and higher NAD in the brains of animals, as well as a link between NR and increased white blood cells in human blood plasma.

That, in turn, would open the possibility of the vitamin derivative becoming a tool in managing football-related concussion and traumatic brain injury in the not-too-distant future, Thorne Research CEO Paul Jacobson said in a press release announcing the study last week.

The study is expected to get underway within a few weeks with the recruitment of local college football linemen, Mayo’s Dr. Bauer told TCB.

He said the possibility that NR could one day be used as a means to treat concussion symptoms is “an exciting one, although it’s important to note that we’re not going to be able say that definitively with this study.

“What we’re seeking here is ‘proof of principle,’ that NR is capable of raising the levels of NAD in the brain. If we can establish that proof of principle, then we would follow that up with larger-scale clinical trials to determine its effectiveness on patients with diagnosed concussions.”

Bauer heads Mayo’s complementary and integrative medicine program, which was set up 2001 to answer patient demand for non-traditional treatments such as massage therapy, acupuncture and holistic and wellness techniques. The program’s previous research has included studying the health benefits of such foods and dietary supplements as ginger, ginseng and Nattokinase.
He said the new ND study “is important in that I believe it’s among the first – if not the first -- clinical approaches to try to treat the symptoms of concussions.”

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