If you have never heard of N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC), you are not alone. This multipurpose supplement may not be as well-known as most other supplements, but its benefits cannot be underestimated. NAC’s many benefits include acting as an antioxidant, boosting fertility, supporting detoxification, and promoting muscle recovery. We will get into more detail below.
The science behind NAC
NAC is a supplement form of cysteine, one of three amino acids found in glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that prevents cellular damage caused by free radicals.
Cysteine is considered a non-essential amino acid because our body can produce it from other amino acids — methionine and serine. It can be found in high-protein foods such as beef, chicken, eggs, and whole grains. In instances when methionine and serine are low, cysteine supplementation may become necessary. It is often referred to as one of the building blocks of protein and helps build muscle as well as boost our immune system.
NAC acts as a precursor of glutathione. It plays a primary role in the production of powerful antioxidants.
Healthy benefits of NAC
There are many benefits to taking NAC but we have listed the top nine that make it a great supplement.
1. Essential to producing glutathione
NAC plays a major role in the production of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant, as it bonds with glutamine and glycine. As an antioxidant, glutathione is key to reducing oxidative stress and helps lower the risk of developing chronic conditions like diabetes.
Glutathione is essential for our immune system as well as preventing cellular damage. It is not only an antioxidant, but is also a key ingredient in detoxification, energy production, and helps the liver and gallbladder deal with fats.
2. Helps with detoxification
NAC plays a role in the detoxification of the liver and kidneys. An article published in the US National Library of Medicine showed that NAC has been used by doctors for the treatment of acetaminophen toxicity during pregnancy.
3. Relieves respiratory conditions
People suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, or asthma are among those who can benefit from NAC. NAC decreases lung and bronchial tube inflammation and loosens mucus in airways. As an antioxidant, NAC helps replenish glutathione levels in the lungs.
4. Strengthens immunity
NAC is showing potential in boosting the immune system by killing viral cells or blocking their replication. A recent study conducted among HIV patients taking NAC supplements showed significant improvement in their levels of cysteine and glutathione which we already know are essential for immunity.
Another study indicated that “the antioxidant N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) had been shown to inhibit replication of seasonal human influenza A viruses”.
5. Regulates brain function and may improve psychiatric disorders
Glutamate, the most important neurotransmitter in the brain, is critical to normal brain function. However, too much glutamate, coupled with a deficiency in glutathione, may contribute to psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and addictive behavior. NAC helps regulate glutamate, making this promising in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. More research on humans though is still needed and NAC supplements should not be taken as sole treatment.
6. May improve fertility
Men with infertility issues can benefit from NAC. Infertility among men was found to come from low antioxidant levels and destruction in the fertility system caused by free radicals. A study showed that supplementing with NAC increased semen quality.
Fertility in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can also be improved by taking NAC supplements as it has been proven effective, according to this study, in inducing or augmenting ovulation.
While there are protein-rich foods that contain cysteine, like chicken, turkey, yogurt, cheese, eggs, sunflower seeds and legumes, some people choose to augment these by taking NAC supplements. These are available in doses as low as NAC 500 mg and can go as high as 1,000-1,200 mg. Taking a higher dose is best checked with one’s physician.