N-acetyl L-Cysteine (NAC) is a specially modified form of the dietary amino acid cysteine and is a powerful antioxidant on it’s own. When taken orally, NAC is believed to help the body make another important antioxidant enzyme glutathione (also in the Kitchen SinkT). It has shown promise for a number of conditions as noted below.
Health Benefits of Cysteine
Evidence suggests that regular use of NAC is helpful for individuals with chronic bronchitis, a condition commonly associated with smoking and emphysema. Individuals who have smoked cigarettes for many years eventually develop deterioration in their lungs leading to various symptoms, including chronic production of thick mucus. This so-called chronic bronchitis tends to flare up periodically into severe acute attacks possibly requiring hospitalization.
Regular use of NAC may diminish the number of these attacks. A review and meta-analysis selected eight double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of NAC for chronic bronchitis. The results of these studies, involving a total of about 1,400 individuals, suggest that NAC taken daily at a dose of 400 to 1,200 mg can reduce the number of acute attacks of severe bronchitis. It is not clear how NAC works; the old concept that it acts by thinning mucus may not be correct.
Mixed evidence suggests that NAC may be helpful for people who take the drug nitroglycerin for angina (the chest pain associated with heart disease). One 4 month, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 200 people with heart disease found that the combination of nitroglycerin and NAC significantly reduced the incidence of heart attacks and other severe heart problems. However, headaches may develop as a side effect with the large amounts used in the studies when combined with nitroglycerin.
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome
NAC may be helpful in a life-threatening condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome.
In order to get more information from certain types of x rays, radiologists often administer substances called “contrast agents.” Unfortunately, contrast agents can damage the kidney. Growing evidence indicates that NAC can help protect the kidney from such damage. Very high dosages of NAC are also used in hospitals as a conventional treatment for acetaminophen poisoning.
Colon Cancer Prevention
A preliminary double-blind, placebo-controlled study of NAC enrolled 62 individuals, each of whom had had a polyp removed from the colon. The abnormal growth of polyps is closely associated with the development of colon cancer. In this study, the potential anticancer benefits of NAC treatment were evaluated by taking a biopsy of the rectum. Individuals taking NAC at 800 mg daily for 12 weeks showed more normal cells in the biopsied tissue as compared to those in the placebo group. Some research has also suggested that NAC may be effective as a treatment for Sjogren’s syndrome (a disease that causes dry eyes, among other symptoms), chronic blepharitis (ongoing infections of the eyelid), Alzheimer’s disease and various forms of severe liver disease. Other evidence hints that NAC might help offset the carcinogenic effects of smoking.
NAC has been proposed as supportive therapy for HIV, but despite some promising results, overall the evidence is inconsistent at best.
NAC is also sometimes recommended for helping chemotherapy work better as well as reducing its side effects. It has also been suggested as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease. However, there is no meaningful scientific evidence that it is effective for these purposes.
The Kitchen Sink Multivitamin
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