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cyos   22 Nov 2019

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) And Why its Gaining Popularity

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What is N-Acetyl Cysteine?

Cysteine is referred to as a semi-essential amino acids. We refer to it as semi-essential because the body is capable of producing cysteine from other amino acids methionine and serine. When dietary intake of methionine and serine are low, cysteine becomes an essential amino acid. 

 

Cysteine can be sourced from many high-protein foods like chicken, eggs, sunflower seeds, and legumes. However, food sensitivities or medical conditions that prevent them from getting their sufficient amount of cysteine. When that happens, that’s the right time to consider supplementation. N-Acetyl Cysteine, N-Acetyl L-Cysteine or simply NAC is a supplement form of cysteine. NAC supplements are recommended over L-cysteine as it is better absorbed by the body.

 

NAC is gaining popularity for the fact that it’s vital for many purposes, among them are replenishing antioxidant stores and fertility. 

 

Performance and Health Benefits of Taking N-Acetyl Cysteine

1. The secret ingredient to the body’s most powerful antioxidant

NAC is primarily known for one thing and that is to jump start the processes involved in producing glutathione, the body’s most abundant and most powerful antioxidant. Together with amino acids glutamine and glycine, NAC is a primary component of glutathione. [1]

 

Glutathione is the body’s first line of defence against free radicals that damage tissues and cells in your body. It is also vital for having optimum immunity against bacteria, helping to lower the risks of infections. 

 

2. Supports liver and kidney functions

When the liver is exposed to excessive toxin levels, glutathione is used to help remove said toxins. However, this also causes glutathione levels to drop. Having adequate levels of glutathione is critical to liver function, and as we mentioned earlier, NAC supports glutathione production. [2]

 

Our kidneys also benefit from NAC by mitigating inflammation which can lead to kidney failure, especially for patients with weak kidney organs. [3]

 

3.Good for mental health

NAC is involved in the regulation of glutamate levels, one of the most important neurotransmitters in the brain. Studies show excess glutamate, together with glutathione depletion, can result to brain damage. If not treated, this can lead to mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, and addictive behaviour. [4]

 

Studies show NAC supplementation can help with those conditions.

  • NAC supplementation has been demonstrated to improve symptoms of bipolar disease and depression as well as mood. It’s also been highlighted to treating OCD. [5
  • Some researchers note NAC’s ability to reduce the negative effects of schizophrenia such as apathy, short attention spans, and social withdrawal. [6
  • Treatment with NAC can also help decrease cravings and smoking frequency. [7]

 

4. Fertility

Some reports suggest infertility issues increase when antioxidant levels are too low to fight free radical damage in the reproductive system. This can lead to cell death and reduced fertility.

 

Some scientists agree NAC can help with fertility problems, citing positive effects on semen quality after 26 weeks of supplementation in men with infertility problems. [8]

 

For women with polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that makes it difficult for women to have children on top of other symptoms, NAC has been shown to improve ovulation, pregnancy rates, as well as live births compared to placebo. [9]

 

5. Lowers heart disease risk

Oxidation happens to heart tissue and can lead to increased risks of strokes, heart disease, and heart attacks. Taking NAC supplements could help lower these risks by means of protecting heart tissues from oxidative damage. It can also boost nitric oxide production which can help improve blood flow and manage blood pressure. [10]

 

6. Overall immunity boost

As we mentioned earlier, glutathione can help strengthen the immune system, and NAC supplements can augment glutathione stores. It also appears that people with an impaired immune system benefit the most from NAC supplements, with some studies showing a significant increase in immune function. [11]

 

Other studies suggest an anti-carcinogenic effect to NAC supplementation, demonstrating its ability to not only induce cancer cell death, but also block cancer cell replication. [12

 

7. Acts as a blood sugar stabiliser

Insulin helps remove sugar from the bloodstream. Chronic elevated sugar levels can contribute to insulin resistance, a state where insulin has difficulty scavenging sugar, and can result to Type 2 Diabetes. Some researchers suggest taking NAC supplements can balance blood sugar levels by decreasing inflammation in fat cells that leads to higher insulin sensitivity. [13]

 

Summary

Cysteine is a semi-essential amino acid that can be found in high protein sources such as eggs, legumes, and meat. It is involved in various processes inside the body including detoxification, immune system response, and blood sugar management. N-Acetyl Cysteine or NAC is the supplement form of Cysteine which is available in powder and capsule form. 

 

References:

  1. Kerksick C, Willoughby D. The antioxidant role of glutathione and N-acetyl-cysteine supplements and exercise-induced oxidative stress. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2005;2(2):38–44. Published 2005 Dec 9. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-2-2-38
  2. El-Serafi I, Remberger M, El-Serafi A, et al. The effect of N-acetyl-l-cysteine (NAC) on liver toxicity and clinical outcome after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):8293. Published 2018 May 29. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-26033-z
  3. Shimizu MH, Coimbra TM, De araujo M, Menezes LF, Seguro AC. N-acetylcysteine attenuates the progression of chronic renal failure. Kidney Int. 2005;68(5):2208-17.
  4. Sheshachala K, Narayanaswamy JC. Glutamatergic augmentation strategies in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Indian J Psychiatry. 2019;61(Suppl 1):S58–S65. doi:10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_520_18
  5. Oliver G, Dean O, Camfield D, et al. N-acetyl cysteine in the treatment of obsessive compulsive and related disorders: a systematic review. Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci. 2015;13(1):12-24.
  6. Sepehrmanesh Z, Heidary M, Akasheh N, Akbari H, Heidary M. Therapeutic effect of adjunctive N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) on symptoms of chronic schizophrenia: A double-blind, randomized clinical trial. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2018;82:289-296.
  7. Tomko RL, Jones JL, Gilmore AK, Brady KT, Back SE, Gray KM. N-acetylcysteine: A potential treatment for substance use disorders. Curr Psychiatr. 2018;17(6):30–55.
  8. Jannatifar R, Parivar K, Roodbari NH, Nasr-Esfahani MH. Effects of N-acetyl-cysteine supplementation on sperm quality, chromatin integrity and level of oxidative stress in infertile men. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2019;17(1):24. Published 2019 Feb 16. doi:10.1186/s12958-019-0468-9
  9. Divyesh Thakker, Amit Raval, Isha Patel, and Rama Walia, “N-Acetylcysteine for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials,” Obstetrics and Gynecology International, vol. 2015, Article ID 817849, 13 pages, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/817849.
  10. Giam B, Chu PY, Kuruppu S, et al. N-acetylcysteine attenuates the development of cardiac fibrosis and remodeling in a mouse model of heart failure. Physiol Rep. 2016;4(7):e12757. doi:10.14814/phy2.12757
  11. Arranz L, Fernández C, Rodríguez A, Ribera JM, De la fuente M. The glutathione precursor N-acetylcysteine improves immune function in postmenopausal women. Free Radic Biol Med. 2008;45(9):1252-62.
  12. Deng J, Liu AD, Hou GQ, et al. N-acetylcysteine decreases malignant characteristics of glioblastoma cells by inhibiting Notch2 signaling. J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2019;38(1):2.
  13. Fulghesu AM, Ciampelli M, Muzj G, et al. N-acetyl-cysteine treatment improves insulin sensitivity in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Fertil Steril. 2002;77(6):1128-35.
CYOS blog content is for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis or treatment recommendations. Always consult with your doctor or medical professional before using any dietary supplements or if you suspect you have any medical concerns or issues.

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