9 Benefits of NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine): The ‘Do-It-All Supplement’ You’ve Never Heard Of

This site contains product affiliate links. We may receive a commission if you make a purchase after clicking on one of these links.

Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables will go a long way towards bettering your health. Often, however, we need a bit of extra help to make sure our bodies are functioning at full-form. That’s where supplements come into things. Unfortunately, with so many thousands of them available, it’s hard to know which are worth your money and which aren’t. NAC is a little-known supplement that has many benefits. This supplement may not be for everyone, but it has a long list of benefits that may suit your needs. Here are 9 of them.

Advertisement

NAC: The Little-Known Supplement with a List of Perks

NAC is short for N-Acetyl L-Cysteine. No supplement will replace diet, exercise, and proper sleep, but NAC is a powerful compound and multi-purpose supplement that could certainly benefit your health. NAC is actually a specific form of cysteine, a semi-essential amino acid. It is called semi-essential because your body can produce it from methionine and serine, two other amino acids. If your diet is low in either of those amino acids, then you’ll be at a deficit. Foods that contain the necessary amino acids to make cysteine include turkey, chicken, cheese, yogurt, eggs, legumes, and sunflower seeds. (1) According to MyFoodDada, cysteine itself can also also be found in lean pork chops, beef, lean chicken breast, and lentils.

Advertisement

This supplement has a long list of potential benefits including, support for, antiaging, fertility, your immune system, lungs, and liver. There are so many benefits to discuss, however, we will focus on the top nine benefits of this supplement.

Advertisement

9 Benefits of NAC

1. It’s A Powerful Antioxidant

Antioxidants are incredibly important for the body. Not only do they help to prevent diseases such as cancer, but they also are crucial to keeping you looking and feeling younger for longer. NAC plays a big role in antioxidant production. It is essential for the production and replenishment of the antioxidant glutathione. One of your body’s most important antioxidants, it is responsible for neutralizing free radicals that cause cell damage and is crucial for the health of your immune system. (2) Glutathione is comprised of three amino acids, glycine, cysteine, and glutamate with cysteine often being the rate-limiting factor.

Oxidative stress takes a big toll on our bodies and overall health. Beyond cancer and aging, this also includes heart disease, infertility, and potentially even some mental health conditions. It is caused by a variety of things. Some of those are unhealthy habits or factors, such as smoking, drinking, and pollution. Others, however, are healthy habits, such as exercise. More research is needed, however, some research hints that glutathione may be a contributing factor to longevity. (3)

Advertisement

2. May Help Improve Some Mental Health Disorders

Glutamate is one of the most important neurotransmitters in your brain. It is required for normal brain functioning, but within reason. Too much of it, combined with depleted levels of glutathione, can cause brain damage. NAC helps to regulate glutamate levels so that they stay in the appropriate range.
Excess glutamate has been linked to several brain disorders, including bipolar disorder and depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and substance abuse disorder. Studies have shown that taking a NAC supplement may help to alleviate symptoms of these disorders and improve overall functioning. It has also been shown to improve the severity of withdrawal symptoms, which helps those who are trying to quit using substances. More studies are required to say definitively whether or not NAC does help with these problems or not. (4, 5, 6)

Advertisement

3. Helps To Prevent Kidney and Liver Damage

Your body is constantly working to remove toxins that enter your body from your environment and that are also created via your body’s own processes. Two of the organs that are largely responsible for detoxifying your body are your kidneys and your liver. Studies show that NAC helps to decrease side effects of both environmental toxins as well as from drugs, including over-the-counter pain medications. In the hospital, doctors actually give intravenous NAC to patients with acetaminophen overdose to protect the liver and kidneys from damage. (7, 8)

Advertisement

4. More Brain Boosting Effects

I already mentioned that NAC has shown to benefit the brain by regulating glutamate levels. Not only may this help with brain disorders, but it can also help with brain health in general. Glutamate is important for several brain functions, including learning, behavior, and memory. It also helps to reduce brain cell oxidative damage associated with aging. There have been some studies to show that it could improve outcomes for patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, however, more research is needed. (9, 10, 11)

Advertisement

5. Helps Improve Respiratory Conditions

NAC acts as both an antioxidant and an expectorant. This means that it helps to reduce inflammation as well as helps to loosen up the mucus in your airways. Specifically, NAC helps to replenish glutathione levels in your lungs. This is what helps to decrease the inflammation in your lung tissues and bronchial tubes.
 
NAC supplements have been particularly helpful for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) patients, as well as those with chronic bronchitis. These people tend to have chronically inflamed lungs and airways, making them cough more and making it more difficult to breathe. Besides decreasing the inflammation, they also thin out the mucus making it easier to expel without such intense wheezing and coughing. It may also be beneficial for those who suffer from other pulmonary conditions such as asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis, and allergies that cause nasal and sinus congestion. (12, 13, 14)

Read: Do Detox Diets and Cleanses Really Work?

Advertisement

6. Blood Sugar Stabilization

Obesity and high blood sugar can cause a lot of health problems, including fat cell inflammation. Inflamed fat cells may eventually destroy insulin receptors in the cells and increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If you can decrease the amount of inflammation in your fat cells, you decrease the risk of that happening. Animal studies have shown that a NAC supplement might decrease that fat cell inflammation and therefore improve insulin resistance. More studies, particularly those in humans, need to be done. On top of that, simply maintaining healthy body weight and blood sugar level will avoid fat cell inflammation altogether. (15)

Advertisement

7. Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

There are many factors that can cause heart disease, as well as heart attacks and strokes. One of those is oxidative damage to the heart tissues themselves.  As we already know, NAC helps to work as an antioxidant to decrease oxidative stress on the body. This includes the heart tissues. (16)
NAC supplements have also been shown to increase your body’s production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps to dilate your veins which increases blood flow back to your heart. An increased flow of oxygenated blood back to your heart helps to reduce the risk of heart attacks. (17)

Advertisement

8. Improve Immune Function

After a two-year global pandemic and as we head into what promises to be another difficult cold and flu season, everyone is looking for ways to support their immunity. NAC supplements have been shown to support immune function, again via its role in glutathione production and regulation. Studies show that NAC helps decrease the flu virus’ ability to replicate. This means lighter symptoms and shorter flu duration. (18)

The flu isn’t the only illness that NAC supplements have shown to improve outcomes for. Studies have seen increased immune function in HIV patients and even the complete restoration of their immune function. (19)

9. Improved Fertility

Finally, if you and your partner are trying to have a baby, then you both may want to consider taking a NAC supplement. Research has shown that NAC supplements help to improve fertility in both men and women, however, they are particularly effective on the men’s side. While many people believe that most problems with infertility come from the female side of a relationship, the reality is that it’s actually about 50/50. (20)

There are many reasons why a man’s fertility might be affected. Oxidative stress in the reproductive organs is one. Conditions specific to the veins of the male reproductive system and quality of semen are others. NAC supplements have shown to improve these factors. (21, 22, 23) For women, NAC supplements may improve fertility for those suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome, however, more research is needed. (24)

Should You Start Taking NAC?

As you can see, there is an incredibly long list of potential benefits of taking a NAC supplement. Before you just go to your nearest pharmacy or health food store and buy the first one you see, however, be sure to do your research first. Look for a quality supplement from a reputable company. If you currently take any medications or have preexisting health conditions, talk to your doctor first before starting a new supplement to make sure that it is safe for you to use.

Keep Reading: Are Essential Oils the Secret Weapon to Survive Allergy Season?

Sources

  1. Top 9 Benefits of NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine).” Healthline. Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD. February 11, 2022.
  2. S-linolenoyl glutathione intake extends life-span and stress resistance via Sir-2.1 upregulation in Caenorhabditis elegans.” PubMed. Roberta Cascella, et al. May 15, 2014.
  3. Mechanisms underlying the cardioprotective effect of L-cysteine.” PubMed. D Shackebaei, et al. September 2005.
  4. N-acetylcysteine in the treatment of psychiatric disorders: current status and future prospects.” PubMed. Alessandro Minarini, et al. November 2016.
  5. N-Acetylcysteine in depressive symptoms and functionality: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” PubMed. Brisa S Fernandes, et al. April 2016.
  6. N-acetylcysteine, a glutamate modulator, in the treatment of trichotillomania: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” PubMed. Jon E Grant, et al. July 2009.
  7. N-acetylcysteine as a potential antidote and biomonitoring agent of methylmercury exposure.” Pubmed. David A Aremu, et al. January 2008.
  8. A Review on Various Uses of N-Acetyl Cysteine.” Pubmed. Vida Mokhtari, et al. December 21, 2016.
  9. Neuroscience. 2nd edition.NIH
  10. A Review on Various Uses of N-Acetyl Cysteine.” NCBI.
  11. Efficacy of Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) and/N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) Supplementation on Nutritional and Antioxidant Status of Male Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Patients.” NCBI. Elham Pirabbasi, et al. 2016
  12. The effect of oral N-acetylcysteine in chronic bronchitis: a quantitative systematic review.” ERS Journals. C Stey, et al. 2000.
  13. Safety of N-Acetylcysteine at High Doses in Chronic Respiratory Diseases: A Review.” NCBI. Peter Calverley, et al. December 2020.
  14. A review on the possible molecular mechanism of action of N-acetylcysteine against insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes development.” Science Direct. Mohamed Montassar Lasram, et al. July 14, 2014.
  15. N-Acetyl Cysteine improves the diabetic cardiac function: possible role of fibrosis inhibition.” NCBI. Cong Liu, et al. August 6, 2016.
  16. N-acetyl-L-cysteine exerts direct anti-aggregating effect on human platelets.” NCBI. G Anfossi, et al. May 2001.
  17. N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) inhibits virus replication and expression of pro-inflammatory molecules in A549 cells infected with highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza A virus.” NCBI. Janina Geiler, et al. September 2, 2009.
  18. HIV-induced cysteine deficiency and T-cell dysfunction–a rationale for treatment with N-acetylcysteine.” NCBI. W Dröge, et al. June 1992.
  19. N-acetyl cysteine and penicillamine induce apoptosis via the ER stress response-signaling pathway.” NCBI. Dongyin Guan, et al. January 2010.
  20. Effects of N-acetyl-cysteine supplementation on sperm quality, chromatin integrity and level of oxidative stress in infertile men.” NCBI. Rahil Jannatifar, et al. 2019.
  21. The role of antioxidant therapy in the treatment of male infertility: an overview.” NCBI. Francesco Lombardo, et al. September 2011.
  22. A Preliminary Study: N-acetyl-L-cysteine Improves Semen Quality following Varicocelectomy.” NCBI. Foroogh Barekat, et al. April 2016.
  23. Efficacy of selenium and/or N-acetyl-cysteine for improving semen parameters in infertile men: a double-blind, placebo controlled, randomized study.” NCBI. Mohammad Reza Safarinejad , et al. February 2009.
  24. N-Acetylcysteine for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials.” NCBI. Divyesh Thakker, et al. January 2015.
Julie Hambleton
The Hearty Soul Team
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.
Advertisement