Isn’t it overwhelming trying to research a new product or supplement? There is so much information out there that it’s hard to narrow down what is factual and what is fiction. Maybe your Facebook friend’s rant about a specific brand has some grain of truth to it, but you’re looking for something with less bias. A simple Google search may not be enough to give you the information you need, especially if it’s a topic that’s completely new to you.
Take for example NAC, a compound that’s both an amino acid and a supplement, but can’t be found in natural foods. This researched yet generally not well known item detoxifies the body and has been used to treat respiratory symptoms such as bronchitis. Sounds almost impossible and confusing right? Let’s take a closer look at NAC.
NAC, the abbreviation for the compound that is the precursor to cysteine, is an amino acid. It has several variants including N-acetyl cysteine, N-acetyl-cysteine, N-acetylcysteine, and N-acetyl-L-cysteine. It’s taken to treat several conditions, from coughs and overdoses and helps break up mucus in the lungs.
The body uses NAC to build antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body against free radicals. Free radicals are produced when the body is exposed to something harmful like tobacco smoke. NAC can be taken as a supplement or a prescription drug.
Amino acids are essential for the human body, breaking down food and repairing body tissue, along with growing it. Some amino acids like glutamine are nonessential and our bodies are able to produce them. Our bodies cannot make essential amino acids, therefore they come from food. Together, amino acids combine to make protein. NAC is one of these amino acids and is especially effective against oxygen radicals.
Our bodies use NAC to build antioxidants, but NAC itself comes from either a prescription drug or as a supplement. Generally, as a prescription drug it’s used to treat conditions like asthma and cystic fibrosis. It has been linked with protecting the liver and possibly preventing damage caused by some drugs that affect the kidneys and neurons.
As a supplement, it has been around for a few decades and is generally unknown. NAC is lauded for supporting respiratory functions, muscle recovery, and healthy liver detoxification. Because of this, it provides relief for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.
NAC can’t be produced naturally by the body but cysteine, the amino acid NAC is a precursor to, can. Cysteine is found in several high-protein foods and NAC is the supplement form of cysteine. Turkey, legumes, dairy products, seeds, and chicken are all rich in cysteine, which can help replenish glutathione, a powerful antioxidant. NAC is prized for producing antioxidants, which are vital to keeping us healthy. By properly consuming both, you are better supporting your body.
Our livers are essentially our bodies’ filtration system. When we eat food, it passes through our digestive system and eventually comes back out. The liver converts toxins into waste products, cleans the blood, and metabolizes the nutrients so it can provide our body with proteins. NAC helps prevent side effects from drugs and environmental toxins, and has anti-inflammatory benefits. Keeping our livers healthy is an easy way to keep our bodies running smoothly.
NAC also regulates glutamate levels. Glutamate is released by nerve cells in the brain, and is a powerful excitatory neurotransmitter responsible for the signals between nerve cells, meaning that it plays a vital role in memory.
If there’s too much glutamate around though, the receiving nerve cell will be overexcited. The receptors can also be overly sensitive and less glutamate will be needed to excite that cell. When cells are overexcited, the effects can cause cell damage and even death. Glutamate is necessary for normal brain function, but when glutamate is in excess along with a depletion of glutathione, brain damage may happen.
NAC may help people with depression and bipolar disorder since these excesses may contribute to other diseases as well. Those with schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and other addictive behaviors can possibly benefit from taking NAC. Research has shown that NAC may be able to treat moderate to severe OCD, and minimize negative effects of schizophrenia.
As a drug, NAC has been studied for decades. Although it has also been studied as a supplement, studies have primarily focused on what the antioxidant can do as a drug. NAC treats symptoms of respiratory conditions, and it’s not a stretch to say that it can potentially treat other conditions and diseases.
NAC acts as an antioxidant and expectorant in order to loosen thick mucus. In order to be anti-inflammatory, NAC replenishes glutathione levels in the bronchial tubes and lung tissue. Since NAC supplements improve these conditions, it makes sense that it’s used to treat COPD. Individuals with COPD experience shortness of breath and coughing, common symptoms of respiratory conditions.
Like most medical research, additional benefits of NAC are unknown. There is sufficient research on NAC that shows how effective it can be in fighting respiratory conditions. A study in 1997 showed that treatment with NAC significantly decreased the frequency of influenza and the duration and severity of most of the symptoms.
In this same study, NAC was used in a control group with individuals with H1N1, commonly known as the swine flu. Only 25% of the individuals with the virus in the NAC group developed flu symptoms, a stark contrast to the 79% of individuals who did in the placebo group. There’s a clear connection between NAC and improving respiratory and flu-like symptoms, which could potentially be beneficial with symptoms of other respiratory diseases.
Separately, NAC and glutathione are antioxidants derived from amino acids. The more potent NAC is converted to glutathione when ingested, which consists of the amino acids glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid. Glutathione is naturally present in our bodies and living organisms and helps recycle vitamins E and C. There is evidence that higher levels of glutathione may reduce the risk for illness, particularly for the elderly.
NAC has a lower molecular weight and is absorbed easily by the body orally, making it a great candidate as an inhalant drug or supplement. Glutathione is the body’s primary intracellular antioxidant and is quickly depleted through aging, trauma, exercise, and other factors of life. NAC helps replenish glutathione, which in turn helps the lungs and the rest of the body.
NAC is powerful alone and is more powerful with glutathione. Our surroundings touch our lungs every time we breathe, so it’s vital to take care of them.
We are exposed to harmful bacteria and pathogens daily, so building our immune system is optimal. Our immune health is not only determined by several factors that we can control such as our diet and sleeping habits but genetics as well. Sulfur-rich fruits and vegetables are simple additions to your diet and can raise glutathione levels, which include:
NAC and glutathione both protect the body against damage to the immune system. Several studies have shown how effective NAC can be against HIV, AIDS, and other diseases including respiratory ones. When it’s combined with glutathione and vitamin C, the benefits are even more obvious. NAC naturally supports glutathione, so it’s not a stretch to say that it can help with other diseases.
Supplementing your diet with NAC is quite simple. Since it’s the supplement form of cysteine, cysteine itself can be found in several foods and can be supplemented with NAC. Knowing what the right amount of NAC to take daily however is up to your doctor, and varies from person to person. Because there aren’t many N-acetyl cysteine foods, it’s best to consume them both with a combination of cysteine-rich foods and NAC supplements.
A diet that’s rich in cystine foods may help decrease the risk for strokes, along with helping alleviate symptoms of certain conditions. There are several low-cost options including:
The majority of these foods pair well with each other and with some grains and leafy greans, so it’s easy to turn them into a well-balanced meal.
As a supplement, NAC can be found in nutrition shops and online. Because it’s not found in food, it can cause some side effects such as diarrhea, fatigue, and an upset stomach. Your doctor will be able to inform you how much NAC to take and may be able to recommend a brand. In order for your body to make cysteine, you need to consume enough levels of folate and vitamins B12 and B6, found in spinach, bananas, salmon, tuna, and beans.
Oral NAC supplements are available in capsule form or as a powder. They are usually sold in 600 mg caps but can be found up to 1,000 mg. In order to ensure you are consuming the best products, only buy NAC supplements that have been tested by a certified body such as NSF International or ConsumerLab. Supplements are not regulated in the same way that food is, so it’s important to research the particular product and brand before purchase. Additionally, just because a product is certified doesn’t mean that the product is effective or will treat a medical condition. It just means that the ingredients are safe for consumption.
So now you know what the mysterious NAC is–an amino acid, a supplement, a drug, and now a banned substance. It’s likely that eventually we’ll know more about NAC as medical research continues and it will find a way back onto the market as a supplement. Now that you’re aware of it, keep an eye out here for more guides, and in the meantime share this with someone that could benefit from some knowledge of NAC in their life.
Stay tuned for part 2
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