The N-acetyl Cysteine (NAC) Powerhouse
Today I want to discuss N Acetyl Cysteine. To do this, I must first discuss glutathione. I have written about the power of glutathione – an essential antioxidant for immune health and fighting cellular damage. I have written specifically about liposomal glutathione – which is a fat-soluble membrane encapsulating the water-soluble glutathione supplement. Liposomes help bypass the mechanisms in our body that will reduce the amount of the supplement we can retain.
Glutathione or (GSH) is an antioxidant present in nearly all cells and is recognized for its function in maintaining overall health. It is your body’s detoxifier. In fact, it has been identified as a key part of preventing damage to important cellular components caused by reactive oxygen species such as free radicals, peroxides, lipid peroxides and even heavy metals. It has also been clearly and repeatedly documented that there is a direct link between lower levels of GSH and a dysregulation of essential T-cells associated cytokines. Cytokines are small proteins that are important in cell signaling.
The problem is that when we get sick, suppress our immune systems, or simply get older, the amount our body can or will produce is reduced substantially. Every system in the body can be affected by a lack of glutathione in our system including the immune system, the nervous system, the gastrointestinal system, etc. This means that when our levels get low, the more prone to various types of infection we become. Inversely, when our levels are high, the less likely we are to get these infections.
I went on to talk about how supplementing with glutathione can improve the function of immune cells that control infection and, of course, the direct correlation between low levels of GSH and increased susceptibility to disease – which can be relieved with supplementation. However, I wanted to share something else about this powerful substance.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the vital role that GSH plays in immunity. Some functional medicine doctors have even claimed that glutathione deficiency is found in nearly all very ill patients. It makes sense. Glutathione is critical in helping your immune system fight off infections and prevent cancer. The good news is that studies have also demonstrated that immunological functions can be significantly enhanced and potentially restored by supplementation.
However, supplementation with glutathione can be tricky. Taking GSH alone often doesn’t provide enough to get your levels back up to where they need to be because the body doesn’t absorb it well, and the stomach can destroy it. Liposomal glutathione works great to increase the amount your body can retain because it helps bypass the stomach, but it’s also expensive, putting it out of reach for many people. The good news is that an alternative to GSH works wonders.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
NAC is a stable and supplemental form of cysteine – a powerful antioxidant in its own right. You can find cysteine in many high-protein foods, like chicken, eggs, and legumes (among others). If you’re sick, though, diet alone may not be enough, and this is especially true if you are already dealing with a chronic infection or illness. It’s further complicated because your body cannot make cysteine without a decent amount of folate, vitamin B6, and a substantial amount of vitamin B12 – which is found naturally by digesting red meat. Again, diet alone may not be enough for the sick.
I want you to understand that NAC and GSH are related. NAC is needed to make and replenish glutathione levels in the body. If you supplement with NAC, your glutathione levels could increase substantially over time. Here too, studies have found that supplementing with NAC can enhance and perhaps even restore immunological functions along with your glutathione levels.
The cool part is that NAC can do quite a few other things in the body. Aside from helping to restore glutathione levels, it can also…
- Boost immune function
- Detox the body
- Prevent Kidney and Liver Damage
- Fights free radicals
- Helps regulate levels of glutamate
- Helps relieve symptoms of respiratory conditions
- Protects you from pollutants
- Reduces inflammation
- Boosts brain health
- Help fight depression
- Improve the quality of semen & sperm
- Possibly stabilize blood sugar
- Reduce heart disease
- Disrupt biofilms
- Help AIDS patients
And, of course… so much more!
Awesome, right? But surely there must be a downside! Unfortunately, there are a few things you should probably know. For starters, NAC is not well absorbed when taken orally. This means that to get your levels up, you’ll likely need to take it for several months (12 weeks or longer) before you begin seeing “dramatic” effects. However, some report seeing some results in a matter of days. Remember that everyone is different. The good news is that NAC is relatively inexpensive, so it’s not a HUGE deal for most people.
You also don’t want to “super-dose” NAC. This is because high amounts of it could cause a bit of nausea or intestinal distress for some. Taken in moderation, though, it’s usually not a problem, and many report little to no side effects other than what I’ve listed here.
Dosing remains a bit unclear and experimental. I have seen doses vary in the numerous studies I have reviewed, but a standard dose seems to be between 600–1,800 mg daily. However, upwards of 1,800 mg twice daily has been seen as well.
My NAC Recommendations
- Take between 600-1,200 mg twice a day for no less than 12 weeks – preferably on an empty stomach and with plenty of water.
- Add a standard multivitamin/multi-mineral supplement to your meals.
- Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise moderately and regularly.
- Get PLENTY of sleep.
If you are looking for a reputable source, know that there are plenty, but I’ll provide you with a few to consider.
I buy in bulk and make my capsules. It has saved me quite a bit over time. If you are interested in doing this, you’ll want the following:
And if you’re not looking to do the work and don’t mind paying a little extra for the pre-packaged bottle, you have plenty of options. However, Amazon no longer sells NAC, so you will need to look elsewhere. I’m sharing the following purely for example purposes. Please shop around.
- Pure Encapsulations – NAC 600 MG, by Simply Nutrients
- Twin Labs – NAC 600 MG, by Vitamin Shoppe
- Integrative Therapeutics – NAC 600 MG, by Pure Formulas
Want to learn more about NAC? Winchester Hospital did a good write-up on NAC. If you want even more, check out this other article I found: All 43 Benefits of NAC. Or, you can bypass the commentary and head straight to Google Scholar, which has thousands of entries on NAC.
Dr. Robertson is a health researcher and educator, not a physician. The information provided here is not medical advice, a professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment, or service to you or any other individual. The information provided is for educational and anecdotal purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation, or the advice of your physician or other healthcare providers. Dr. Robertson is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or additional information, services, or product you obtain or utilize. IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY, YOU SHOULD IMMEDIATELY CALL 911 OR YOUR PHYSICIAN.