The Amazing Benefits of N-A-C (N-Acetyl-Cysteine)Dr. Zoltan P. Rona, MD, M.Sc. May 1, 2014
One of the most underestimated and under-utilized natural food supplements I have recommended to my patients over the past 35 years is an amino acid derivative known as N-A-C (N-Acetyl-Cysteine).
Why underestimated? Well, even naturopaths seldom recommend it and most people who take natural supplements have never even heard of it. Yet, in some cases, this supplement could make the difference between life and death.
N-A-C is a form of the essential amino acid cysteine, something used by the body to make glutathione (GSH), one of the body’s most important antioxidants. In fact, all the benefits of N-A-C arise from its ability to boost a person’s blood levels of GSH. The major impact of N-A-C is on the immune system, liver protection, detoxification, and cardiovascular health. We all need its anti-inflammatory protection.
N-A-C modulates the expression of genes that affect the inflammatory process. It inhibits the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines, suppresses NF-kappa B, and regulates the gene for COX-2 thereby preventing inflammation and pain. These chemicals are involved in hundreds of inflammatory conditions and diseases. In other words, N-A-C is anti-inflammatory and can either blunt or reverse chronic inflammatory conditions.
Cardiovascular System Benefits
N-A-C prevents LDL-cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) from being oxidized and causing inflammatory damage to the blood vessels. N-A-C lowers the levels of homocysteine, which in turn prevents a build-up of plaque in the arteries. The lower the homocysteine levels, the less likelihood of arterial blockage.
N-A-C is also the most effective natural remedy that lowers the blood levels of lipoprotein a (Lp(a)), thought by many scientists to be a more accurate predictor of cardiovascular disease than blood levels of cholesterol. Diet changes and drugs do not lower Lp(a) anywhere near as well as N-A-C.
N-A-C also improves insulin resistance and thereby helps improve metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and hypoglycemia.
Since GSH has been documented to help numerous neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, MS, Alzheimer’s, hearing damage, ataxia and ALS, it stands to reason that N-A-C would be helpful because supplementation of it raises the blood levels of GSH.
Immune System Benefits
Because N-A-C boosts the body’s levels of GSH, it helps fight most viruses, including the influenza virus and HIV, the AIDS virus. GSH is vital for optimal T and B-lymphocyte function. N-A-C can block the production of the AIDS virus so is a valuable natural defense against at least this virus, if not millions of others.
One would think it might be a good idea to supplement the body with GSH but the major problem here is that GSH is not absorbed intact from the gastrointestinal tract. Oral GSH supplementation is destroyed and inactivated by stomach acid. N-A-C is not.
Supplementation of N-A-C is therefore more effective than supplementing GSH. This is because the body is able to make much more GSH from N-A-C than if supplementing GSH orally in any form.
In addition to its anti-viral properties, N-A-C protects the body from numerous pollutants, drugs, microbes and toxic heavy metals like mercury. N-A-C is mucolytic which means that it breaks up heavy and sticky mucous that can build up in conditions such as sinusitis, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and cystic fibrosis. N-A-C is therefore indispensable in any condition that involves excessive mucous.
Evidence exists that N-A-C blocks the progression of most cancers and could be taken with chemotherapy to improve treatment outcomes.
N-A-C protects the body from many different toxins because of its content of sulfhydryl groups that can bind and inactivate herbicides, mercury, cadmium, lead, other toxic heavy metals, drugs like acetaminophen, environmental pollutants, microbes like E. Coli, carbon tertrachloride and aflatoxin. Although not a drug, N-A-C has government approval as a drug to prevent liver damage from acetaminophen (Tylenol) poisoning.
A very common condition that plagues over 50 million people in North America is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). With this condition, the liver stores excessive amounts of fat mostly due to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, or diabetes. Liver function tests are usually elevated, indicating damage to liver cells and the liver appears grossly fatty on an ultrasound. This condition benefits from strict restriction of simple carbohydrates as well as a vigorous exercise program. Studies also show a significant improvement in liver function tests in those suffering from NAFLD with supplementation of N-A-C. Not only does it protect liver cells, but it also helps heal a damaged liver.
Respiratory Tract Benefits
Due to N-A-C’s mucous-dissolving properties, just about any lung or bronchial problem can benefit from high levels of supplementation. Whether you have chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, asthma, sinusitis or pneumonia, N-A-C helps reduce the viscosity of mucous so that the body can more easily cough it up. A number of studies also conclude that N-A-C prevents influenza, possibly through this mucolytic mechanism.
In addition, N-A-C reduces both the frequency and duration of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) attacks and may blunt the ravaging clinical course of pulmonary fibrosis, a usually lethal lung disease.
In my practice I have had a great deal of success using an N-A-C nasal spray to treat chronic sinus pain and congestion. Combining the spray with high dose oral N-A-C and vitamin C is often more effective than prescription antibiotics for alleviating chronic or recurrent sinusitis.
Stomach, Intestinal, Kidney Benefits
The bacteria known as H.Pylori has been acknowledged as a cause of ulcers, gastritis, reflux disorder discomforts, and even different types of gastrointestinal cancer. In fact, it’s the second leading known cause of all cancers. N-A-C supplementation is capable of inactivating H.Pylori and is something worth adding to any protocol geared to treating antibiotic-resistant H.Pylori infections.
Kidney disease is greatly helped by N-A-C supplementation. Even dialysis patients can benefit from as little as 600 mg N-A-C daily to reduce inflammation occurring in chronic kidney disease.
Psychiatric and Addiction Benefits
Trichotillomania is a bizarre obsessive-compulsive disorder in which victims pull out their hair for inexplicable reasons, causing noticeable hair loss. The usual treatment is anti-depressant drugs or major tranquilizers. Studies indicate that N-A-C significantly reduces the compulsive hair pulling.
Schizophrenia, autism, bipolar illness and other obsessive-compulsive disorders are also improved with N-A-C.
In addition, studies indicate that N-A-C diminishes the craving for highly addictive drugs like cocaine, nicotine and marijuana. As such, it may be a useful adjunct in any drug detoxification program.
Athletic and Anti-Aging Benefits
Due to its antioxidant effects and benefits to the respiratory system, N-A-C improves athletic performance. Specifically, N-A-C reduces muscle fatigue, and as proven in double blind studies, it enhances athletic endurance.
Furthermore, if you can effectively scavenge harmful free radicals, it stands to reason that you can prevent premature aging. This phenomenon has indeed been proven in numerous scientific studies of N-A-C.
There are no accepted ideal dosages for N-A-C. My advice is to start at 600 mg daily and gradually build up to a maximum of 3000 mg daily. Ideally, take with an equivalent amount of vitamin C for maximum free radical scavenging effects.
Despite over 40 years of clinical use by naturopaths, holistic medical doctors and nutritionists of virtually every stripe, N-A-C has a well-established safety record even at very high dosages over long periods of time (you can take it virtually without worry for months and probably years).
Some people experience nausea when taking N-A-C on an empty stomach, but the majority of people do not experience any side effects if they take it with food.
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Zoltan P. Rona, MD, MSc, offers consultations on nutrition and natural remedies in Thornhill. He has recently retired from medical practice as a Complementary and Alternative medical practitioner and now strictly offers nutritional consultations. He is the medical editor of The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing and has also published several Canadian bestselling books, including Vitamin D, The Sunshine Vitamin. To see more of Dr. Rona’s articles, visit: www.highlevelwellness.ca and for appointments, please call (905) 764-8700; office located at: 390 Steeles Ave. W., Unit 19, Thornhill, Ontario