For the study, the researchers tested the effect of nicotinamide riboside (NR), a form of vitamin B3, in female rats that were treated with paclitaxel, a chemotherapy commonly used to treat breast and ovarian cancer.
Although chemotherapies have improved cancer survival rates, many of these drugs also cause debilitating side effects that decrease the quality of life of patients and survivors.
In particular, many anti-cancer drugs cause chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) – nerve damage and pain.
"Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy can both hinder continuation of treatment and persist long after treatment has ended, severely affecting the quality of life of cancer patients," said study first author Marta Hamity from University of Iowa in the US.
"Our findings support the idea that NR could potentially be used to prevent or mitigate CIPN in cancer patients, resulting in a meaningful improvement in their quality of life and the ability to sustain better and longer treatment," Hamity said.
The findings, published in the journal Pain, lay the groundwork for testing whether this nutritional supplement can reduce nerve pain in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.
Nicotinamide riboside boosts levels of an important cell metabolite called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+).
Previous animal studies have shown that increasing NAD+ levels with NR can protect against many types of nerve damage.
The new study found that the NR supplement increased levels of NAD+ in the rats' blood by about 50 per cent.