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NAC, or N-acetyl-cysteine, is the supplemental form of the amino acid cysteine which is naturally found in foods high in protein. It has received much attention over the years for its many health benefits. It’s even FDA-approved to treat overdose of acetaminophen (Tylenol), since it can help with liver detoxification (1). Most recently it’s been used to aid in combatting COVID-19 for its ability to break down mucus and phlegm in patients with chest congestion. In fact, a quick search indicates there are over a dozen trials looking at NAC for the treatment of COVID-19 (2).
There’s much controversy around treating COVID using anything other than CDC-approved drugs, for which NAC is not recommended. In July 2020 the FDA took measures to ban the over-the-counter use of NAC. This issue is still being investigated. To learn more about the efforts, you can read the most recent article on the FDA’s website titled “FDA Requests Information Relevant to the Use of NAC as Dietary Supplement” (3). More to come on this as it unfolds.
The most notable benefit of the supplement NAC (and its natural form, cysteine) is that it’s needed to make glutathione, which is thought to be the most important antioxidant in the human body. Other critical components that make up glutathione include the amino acids glutamine and glycine. These three are the building blocks of this very powerful antioxidant. Natural ways to ensure glutathione is supported in the diet are via high-protein and sulphur-rich foods like beef, pork, poultry, fish, and liver, as well as vegetables high in allium like onions and garlic. Since cysteine has been shown to degrade easily, NAC has become increasingly more popular as the supplemental form. It provides cysteine in a way that prevents degradation.
Antioxidants, like glutathione, are important as they help mitigate oxidative stress which causes harm to the body. To understand how this works you need to know that molecules of the body, by nature, like to be whole. When they lose a part of themselves, usually an electron or hydrogen atom, they become free radicals. These unstable molecules search for a way to become whole again, stealing electrons from other molecules and damaging them in the process. If these free radicals bond to atoms like DNA, or other vital cellular structures, they can cause serious harm leading to mutations and chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and the like.
Free radicals come from both outside factors and also within the body. Outside factors include exposure to toxins like pollutants, chemicals, industrial seed oils, and even UV rays from the sun. The list goes on. Free radicals are also a normal byproduct of bodily functions, like when mitochondria make energy within the cell (called ATP), or when the immune system fights intruders, spinning off an army of free radicals to destroy viruses and bacteria. Since the body creates free radicals, we’ve evolved to also mitigate them by manufacturing antioxidants, which neutralize them by giving up some of their electrons to stabilize the free radicals and avoiding harm to other molecules.
Antioxidants are found in many of the plant foods we eat. Carotenoids (lycopene found in tomatoes) and flavonoids (quercetin found in apples) are just a few. But nothing compares to the antioxidants that come from within us. This is the case for glutathione, which has thousands of medical articles written about it, and is referred to as the “master antioxidant”. In addition to supporting a healthy immune system, benefits include the ability to chelate heavy metals and reduce oxidative stress. As a detoxifier, it acts as a magnet carrying away toxins so they are destroyed by bile or expelled via stool. Studies have found that levels are low in people with cancer, infection, chronic disease, diabetes, poisoning, and other trauma because it’s lending a hand in mitigating the illness. Researchers have even gone so far as to claim that the amount of glutathione in our cells can be a predictor of how long we will live (4).
Glutathione is one of the most important molecules we need to stay healthy and prevent disease. In order for our bodies to make glutathione we need glycine, glutamine and cysteine. NAC is the supplemental form of cysteine which has become increasingly popular due to the degradation of natural cysteine in the body.
Studies also show the use of N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) to help treat things like acetaminophen (Tylenol) toxicity, chronic bronchitis, liver cancer, colitis, fertility, and overall liver protection (5). A general dosage recommendation for NAC is between 600-1,800 milligrams a day, taking 600 mg at a time to allow for proper absorption.
See below to find out which one is right for you:
NAC by Biotics Research
Pure N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC), of 500 mg per capsule, is a great option for those wanting to add it to their current supplement load.
NAC by Premier Research Labs
This formula includes the botanical complex, NAC Excell Blend, to provide a broad spectrum of phytochemical compounds for superior nutritional support.
GlutaClear by Metagenics
Features a blend of key ingredients designed to help boost the body’s production of glutathione, a primary antioxidant throughout the entire body.
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