Nicotinamide (NAM) at doses far above those recommended for vitamins is suggested to be effective against a wide spectrum of diseases and conditions, including neurological dysfunctions, depression and other psychological disorders, and inflammatory diseases. Recent increases in public awareness on possible pro-longevity effects of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) precursors have caused further growth of NAM consumption not only for clinical treatments, but also as a dietary supplement, raising concerns on the safety of its long-term use. However, possible adverse effects and their mechanisms are poorly understood. High-level NAM administration can exert negative effects through multiple routes. For example, NAM by itself inhibits poly(ADP-ribose) polymerases (PARPs), which protect genome integrity. Elevation of the NAD+ pool alters cellular energy metabolism. Meanwhile, high-level NAM alters cellular methyl metabolism and affects methylation of DNA and proteins, leading to changes in cellular transcriptome and proteome. Also, methyl metabolites of NAM, namely methylnicotinamide, are predicted to play roles in certain diseases and conditions. In this review, a collective literature search was performed to provide a comprehensive list of possible adverse effects of NAM and to provide understanding of their underlying mechanisms and assessment of the raised safety concerns. Our review assures safety in current usage level of NAM, but also finds potential risks for epigenetic alterations associated with chronic use of NAM at high doses. It also suggests directions of the future studies to ensure safer application of NAM.
Keywords: DNA methylation; NAD+; PARP; SIRT1; SIRT3; adverse effect; methylnicotinamide; mitochondria; nicotinamide; reactive oxygen species.