NAC is the safe and inexpensive supplement form of cysteine, a semi-essential amino acid present in high-protein foods like chicken, turkey, and eggs. Why supplement with NAC? It’s an antioxidant powerhouse. This amino acid quickly replenishes glutathione, the most formidable free-radical-fighting antioxidant in your body. NAC is also beneficial in the treatment of a wide spectrum of physical and mental disorders. Studies have shown that NAC supplementation encourages liver detoxification, improves respiratory infections, possibly increases fertility, and even modulates neural pathways to relieve psychiatric symptoms.
Let’s take a closer look at these exciting benefits!
NAC is most famously valued for its role in producing antioxidants, namely glutathione. Glutathione is a vital and naturally-occurring antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals that can damage cells and tissues in your body. Increased levels of glutathione have been shown to have beneficial effects on numerous ailments caused by oxidative stress, such as heart disease, infertility, and certain psychiatric conditions.
NAC has profound detoxifying effects and can help improve the function of both your kidney and your liver. In fact, NAC is so good at detoxifying the body that doctors use it to treat overdoses from acetaminophen and other drugs.
Additionally, NAC has applications for liver diseases on account of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
NAC helps to regulate glutamate, a neurotransmitter vital for normal brain action. Excess glutamate paired with depleted glutathione can cause brain damage and may contribute to mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD, and addictive behaviors. NAC may minimize negative symptoms like social withdrawal, apathy, reduced attention span, and overall ability to function.
Inflammatory cytokines are also thought to be potential contributors to psychiatric disorders like bipolar, OCD, and addiction, all of which cause enormous suffering. Supplementation with NAC has been shown to reduce inflammation in these oxidative pathways, possibly ameliorating symptoms. Data has also emerged connecting oxidative stress to the pathophysiology of drug abuse, suggesting that NAC may help those in recovery from addiction by restoring normal neural pathways.
NAC can also relieve respiratory conditions by acting as an expectorant and loosening mucus in your air passageways. Replenished glutathione levels in your lungs helps to reduce inflammation of the bronchial tubes and lung tissues.
Sufferers of COPD have long-term oxidative damage and lung inflammation. Many have found symptom relief with NAC supplementation, including a decrease in shortness of breath and coughing. Bronchitis and asthma are helped by NAC for the same reasons. By thinning mucus in the bronchial tubes and boosting glutathione levels, NAC decreases severity and frequency of wheezing and coughing.
The alterations in cysteine levels achieved by NAC assist in the regulation of the neurotransmitters glutamate and dopamine, boosting brain health. Glutamate is connected to learning speed, memory, and a broad range of behaviors. Because NAC regulates glutamate levels, supplementation might benefit those with brain and memory ailments.
Those suffering with the neurological disorder Alzheimer’s, for example, have reduced learning and memory capacity. NAC may slow this cognitive decline. Likewise those with Parkinson’s disease, a disorder characterized by the deterioration of neurons that generate dopamine, have oxidative damage and decreased antioxidants. NAC appears to improve both dopamine production and symptoms like tremors.
While the implications are positive, more research is needed to make conclusions about the effects of NAC on brain health.
Infertility affects 15% of all couples trying to conceive, and in nearly half these cases male fertility is the main issue. Risk of male infertility increases when antioxidant levels are insufficient to combat free radicals in your reproductive system. The resulting stress can cause cell death. Researchers suggest that NAC supplementation in men may reduce infertility issues by reducing oxidative stress and healing free-radical damage.
Likewise women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may also benefit from NAC supplementation because NAC may help induce and/or augment the ovulation cycle, leading to increased chances of pregnancy.
High blood sugar and obesity contribute to inflammation in the fat tissue, which may lead to the damage or destruction of insulin receptors and put you at risk for type 2 diabetes. Studies using animals have shown that supplementation with NAC stabilized blood sugar by decreasing inflammation in fat cells and thereby improving insulin resistance. Healthy insulin receptors properly remove sugar from your blood, keeping levels within normal limits. More research is needed on human subjects, however, to confirm these effects.
Oxidative damage to heart tissue leads to heart disease, causing strokes, heart attacks, and other serious outcomes. NAC might reduce risk of heart disease by reducing oxidative damage to the heart.
NAC has also been shown to increase nitric oxide production, helping veins to dilate and improving blood flow. This expedites blood transit back to your heart and can lower your risk of heart attacks.
NAC and glutathione also boost immune health. Studies done with HIV-positive individuals have shown that NAC may suppress virus reproduction and increase restoration of natural killer cells.
Other studies have shown that NAC might have efficacy in cancer cell death and the blockage of cancer cell replication.
Again, more human studies are needed in this area.
NAC is a powerful supplement that acts directly as a scavenger of free radicals, especially oxygen radicals, and has impressive detoxifying and replenishing effects on a wide range of bodily functions and maladies. Please confer with your doctor to see if NAC supplementation is right for you!
Dean, Olivia et al. “N-acetylcysteine in psychiatry: current therapeutic evidence and potential mechanisms of action.” Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN vol. 36,2 (2011): 78-86. doi:10.1503/jpn.100057
Mokhtari, Vida et al. “A Review on Various Uses of N-Acetyl Cysteine.” Cell journal vol. 19,1 (2017): 11-17. doi:10.22074/cellj.2016.4872