Supplement Spotlight: N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
By Joanne Aponte, ND • December 7, 2020
N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) is a supplement that I use almost every day when I see patients. It has so many uses in the body so I think to use this naturally occurring substance in protocols for many conditions and health issues. NAC supports the health of the liver, lungs, immune system and more. It is a strong antioxidant and helps with detoxification.
NAC is derivative of the amino acid cysteine which we obtain from the protein in our diets. Even though our bodies can synthesize NAC, supplementing with this substance has been studied to provide additional health benefits.
There is a good amount of research on NAC for a variety of health issues. Currently research supports benefits of NAC in these key areas of health
Liver and Cellular Health
NAC helps our body make more glutathione. Glutathione is the body’s most important antioxidant. Together, NAC and glutathione combat free radicals and protect cells from damage. Glutathione is the key antioxidant needed for liver detox pathways and is essential for effectively clearing toxic metabolites. NAC is a great natural substance for supporting gentle everyday detox.
Studies show that NAC supports a healthy inflammatory response and promotes the production of immune cells called Natural Killer (NK) cells. NK cells are primary immune responders to viral infections. I think of NAC for daily immune support in patients with respiratory tract issues like Asthma as well as inflammatory conditions like Auto-immune disease. Studies have also shown benefits of NAC in autoimmune conditions such as Lupus and Multiple Sclerosis.
Respiratory Tract Health
NAC decreases inflammation in the respiratory tract and helps thin and break up mucous in the lungs, sinuses and throat. When mucous is less “sticky” the foreign particles trapped in the mucous can be cleared from the body more easily. I find NAC to be helpful in sinus and lung conditions when mucous needs to drain better. By increasing glutathione production, NAC supports lung health since glutathione levels are highly concentrated in the lungs.
NAC is supportive for issues of high blood sugar and high insulin. It helps improve the cell’s response to insulin and aids in reducing overall insulin levels. In studies NAC’s effectiveness has been comparable to Metformin, a common medication for diabetes. I use NAC frequently for blood sugar issues and in Polycystic ovarian syndrome to help improve insulin sensitivity.
Women’s Hormone Health and Fertility
NAC is useful in women with PCOS by reducing the symptoms of excess testosterone, helping to regulate the menstrual cycle and lowering insulin levels. NAC is also very useful for infertility as is protects the eggs from oxidative damage, supports healthy egg quality and reduces ovarian aging in women. I also use NAC in endometriosis to help reduce pain and to decrease proliferation of the endometrial tissue. NAC’s liver and detoxification effects are often useful in overall hormone balancing since the liver plays a key role in metabolizing our hormones.
Research also shows NAC’s benefits in mental health conditions by supporting detoxification, reducing inflammation and acting on glutamate receptors in the brain. Studies have shown benefit for PTSD, compulsive disorders, depression and other mental health issues.
While NAC alone is not a silver bullet for our health issues (nothing really is). It is very useful tool for many wellness protocols and health concerns. I have found NAC to be a great addition to my patient protocols and have seen very good clinical results with its use.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) Ingredient spotlight. Emerson Ecologics Element. Issue #5, 2020; 32-34.
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Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.