N-acetylcysteine or NAC is the amino acid cysteine with an acetyl group attached to it, chemically speaking. The acetyl group makes the NAC readily absorbable by the body, enabling it to be therefore distributed throughout the body. N-acetylcysteine is not found in the foods we eat, however; it has to be ingested through oral supplementation. So what are its health benefits? N-acetylcysteine is an antioxidant and a precursor to essential intracellular glutathione synthesis. As an acteylated form of cysteine it is one of the three precursors of the body's glutathione synthesis. Cysteine is the rate-limiting factor in glutathione synthesis, however, since the other glutathione precursors, glycine and glutamic acid, are found abundantly in the body.
What is so important about glutathione? Glutathione is the number one antioxidant in cells. Virtually all cells need glutathione to function in a healthful manner. It is the body's master antioxidant and detoxifier, and as such, it has been found to reduce intracellular inflammation, which is ultimately the root cause of all disease.
Why take NAC instead of glutathione itself? Because oral glutathione is poorly absorbed by the body, and even if it could pass through the stomach and intestines, it would not enter the cells where it is needed. The glutathione molecule itself is too big. This is why instead of taking glutathione directly, N-acetylcysteine is taken. NAC is readily converted to cysteine, the essential precursor of glutathione. By itself, cysteine is not very soluble in water, and is not easily absorbed by the intestines. This is why, in order to boost intracellular glutathione, the acetylated form of cysteine, or N-acetylcysteine, is taken. N-acetylcysteine readily enters cells where it is then converted to cysteine. It is this cysteine that is used then in the production of glutathione inside the cells.
What are the uses of N-acetylcysteine? N-acteylcysteine is used in hospitals as an antidote to acetaminophen poisoning. NAC is also used to improve the symptoms and recurrences in people with chronic bronchitis. This is due to NAC's ability to break down mucus. In fact, NAC has been used as a mucolytic drug for more than 30 years.
NAC has also been found to prevent influenza (flu) infections at a 1200 mg daily dosage. A study of 268 subjects was conducted in 1997 about the effect of long-term N-acetylcysteine treatment on influenza and influenza-like episodes. In the study, the subjects were given either a placebo or two daily doses of 600mg NAC for 6 months. Those given NAC had significantly reduced influenza-like symptoms.
Another use of NAC is in treating liver failure from causes other than acetaminophen poisoning. Hepatitis is an example of liver failure where supplementation shows promise. Furthermore, NAC has been found to reduce the inflammatory symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. A study shows that N-acetylcysteine helps protect the lungs by its antioxidant action as well as its role as a precursor to the master antioxidant glutathione.
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is caused by a virus (SARS-Cov-2) and is known for inducing multi-system organ dysfunction associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Current orthodox therapeutic strategies for COVID-19 have by and large failed to effectively reduce the mortality rate, especially for elderly patients. The recently developed vaccines against SARS-Cov-2 have been reported to induce the production of neutralizing antibodies in young volunteers, but these vaccines have shown but limited benefit in the elderly, suggesting an age-dependent immune response. As a result, exploring new applications of existing medications like NAC could potentially provide valuable treatments for COVID-19.
NAC has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, as
well as immune-modulating characteristics that may prove beneficial
in the ultimate treatment and prevention of SARS-Cov-2. N-acetylcysteine
has been used in clinical practice to treat critically ill septic
patients, and more recently for COVID-19 patients. It has been
successful in aiding the detoxification of graphene oxide and nano-particles for not only those
who have been vaccinated, but for those who are around others who have been infected or vaccinated who are shedding these damaging factors from their bodies into the surrounding environment.