According to the researchers, the ‘miracle molecule’, which has been found in milk may also be present in beer and some other foods, has no side effects and could even lengthen lifespan.
The problem is that the molecule, called nicotinamide riboside (NR), is extremely small, difficult to find and very expensive to synthesise.
Johnan Auwerx, head of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne, Switzerland, said experiments using mice uncovered the molecule’s potential.
“NR appears to play a role in preventing obesity,” the Daily Mail quoted Auwerx as saying.
Working with Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, his team found that mice on a high-fat diet that were fed NR gained significantly less weight – 60 percent – than mice eating the same diet without NR supplements.
And none of the NR-treated mice indicated that they were developing diabetes, unlike the untreated mice.
Mice which were fed with NR supplements over a ten-week period showed better endurance performance than those who were not.
They were also in better shape – and this was confirmed by observations of their muscle fibres under the microscope.
The molecule works by becoming trapped in cells where it boosts the metabolism, much like resveratrol, which is found in wine.
No side effects were discovered during the experiments.
‘It really appears that cells use what they need when they need it, and the rest is set aside without being transformed into any kind of deleterious form,” study author Carles Canto said in a statement.
Mice who had been fed the molecule also performed better in endurance tests, as well as in tests measuring heat loss.
The researchers believe that an increase in the molecule reflects an improvement in mitochondrial function, the part of the cell that supplies energy.
Mitochondria are thought to play a part in the aging process.
It is hoped that by stimulating mitochondrial function with the NR molecule, scientists may witness increase in longevity as well as other health improvements.
But the molecule is difficult to reproduce and extremely small.
“At the moment, we can’t even measure its concentration in milk, so it’s impossible to know how much you would have to drink to be able to observe its effects,” Auwerx added.
Research will continue with human testing at some point in the future.