What is N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)?
NAC is the short form of N-acetylcysteine and is a synthetic form of the amino acid cysteine. FDA has approved it for acetaminophen toxicity, but research on its other benefits remains preliminary and largely inconsistent across studies; however, some use it in place of traditional medication or supplements.
Please remember that it doesn’t fit in the FDA’s definition of a dietary supplement as it is an approved drug, and anything approved by FDA for a specific purpose is not considered a food or dietary supplement.
However, as we know, NAC is an antioxidant, and many people use it for many other health benefits, including cough, common flu, COVID, dry eyes, fertility, brain health, and prevention of cancer. Some studies prove its efficacy in certain medical conditions, but no concrete scientific evidence supports these uses.
Health Benefits Of NAC
Based on the available and limited research, here are some health benefits of using NAC as a supplement.
1. Work as a Powerful Antioxidant
The role of NAC in antioxidant production makes it valuable to the body. Along with two other amino acids—glutamine and glycine-it’s necessary for making antioxidants called Glutathione which neutralize free radicals that can damage cells or tissues. Animal studies suggest that it is crucial for heart health, infertility, and mental health conditions like anxiety disorder/depression  and may play a vital role in longevity . However, more research is needed to discover its role in restoring Glutathione and its role in the above conditions.
2. Prevent Kidney & Liver Damage
NAC has many benefits for your body, including helping to prevent side effects from drug overdoses and environmental toxins . Doctors may often give IV doses to reduce or stop liver and kidney damage caused by acetaminophen toxicity .
3. Improve Mental Health
NAC is an important compound that helps control glutamate levels, the most popular neurotransmitter in your brain. Many studies  suggest that taking NAC can help psychiatric disorders like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and substance use disorder. While other studies show that it may play a role when treating moderate-to extreme cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) .
NAC may help decrease the chances of getting addicted to drugs like cocaine and heroin. It can also be used in people with drug addiction, as NAC has been shown to decrease their withdrawal symptoms from cocaine , Marijuana, and nicotine .
4. Use For Cough & Lung Health
NAC supplements have been used to improve COPD symptoms, alleviating the discomfort of lung conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) . They also help replenish your body’s natural levels of Glutathione — an essential nutrient for maintaining health in both lungs and other parts you may not even be aware exist.
5. Brain Health
The benefits of NAC supplements on brain health are promising, as it regulates glutamate and replenishes Glutathione, which can boost brain health . It can also reduce brain cell oxidative stress associated with aging .
Besides the above health benefits, this amino acid may offer other health benefits like improving fertility in both men and women, stabilizing blood sugar, and reducing heart diseases.
Although N-acetylcysteine has been proven effective in many health conditions, more research must be done before we can make strong conclusions.
How Can Someone Get NAC? Do They Need A Prescription?
NAC is available as a supplement, but you can also get it through a prescription. Many companies make this ingredient in their formulation, which is readily available on Amazon, Walmart and other such stores.
Dosage—Are There Different Doses?
The usual recommended adult dose is 600-1200mg per day. You will need to take it in the evening DLMO (dim-light melatonin onset) or later. Although it is safe for children, it’s recommended to avoid it in children under 12 years, or your doctor better prescribes it. N-acetyl cysteine comes in oral, Intravenous, and then inhalation dosage forms.
Who Should Avoid NAC?
Anyone with a stomach ulcer should not take N acetyl Cysteine because it may cause bruising and bleeding. Please inform your doctor before doing surgery because of its anticlotting effect.
Although it is safe to use during pregnancy, it is recommended to consult your doctor because of potential congenital disabilities. Cysteine is safe to use during breastfeeding but to be safe avoid its use.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) causes bronchospasm and may not be safe for asthmatic patients.
Also, avoid it if you are allergic to it or inactive ingredients.
What Should You Tell Your Doctor Before Taking NAC?
Before taking NAC, tell your doctor if you are already taking nitroglycerin, as it can cause extremely low blood pressure and headaches. Also, talk to your healthcare provider about your current medical condition, like if you are asthmatic or hypertensive.
N-acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is a crucial semi essential amino acid responsible for many functions in the body.
- It reload the levels of antioxidant glutathione, and also regulates the important neurotransmitter glutamate.
- It is also known to detoxify the body and is mainly used for paracetamol toxicity related to overdose.
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