You may already know the many virtues of amino acids and why they’re so important to the make-up of your body’s tissue — vital for both your general health, and progression with exercise goals. But how much do you know about N-Acetylcysteine, the ‘wonder’ amino acid?
What is N-Acetylcysteine (NAC)?
N-Acetylcysteine, or NAC to save the struggle with pronunciation, is a type of cysteine which is an amino acid that contains sulphur. Amino acids are the building blocks of many bodily functions, and NAC takes on the job of managing glutathione levels in your body, which is an antioxidant that removes oxygen radicals from your cells. These radicals (not as cool as they sound) can cause serious damage to your cells and tissue.
N-Acetylcysteine comes with such a huge range of health benefits it’s hard to know where to start. Here we take a look at some of its greatest hits:
Reduces Pain and Inflammation
NAC can decrease inflammation in tissues, which in turn can reduce and relieve the symptoms of injuries or diseases. This makes it an especially useful supplement to take after a workout, as it can help to reduce pain and enhance your recovery rate by decreasing the inflammation caused by a hard-core training session.
Some studies have shown that N-Acetylcysteine can help to treat liver damage caused by toxic substances and excessive alcohol consumption.
Some people even claim that NAC can lessen the effects of a hangover if taken before a drinking session… now that’s something worth putting to the test, right?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
COPD is a lung disease that’s caused by long-term oxidative damage to the tissues of your lungs. This, unsurprisingly, causes inflammation that can make your airways smaller, causing shorter breath and a bad cough. NAC restores glutathione in your lungs, which can decrease oxidative damage and tissue damage.
NAC is probably best known in the medical sphere for being a useful respiratory aid, due to its ability to reduce inflammation in bronchial tubes. Chronic bronchitis causes a build-up of mucus in your lungs, and NAC can reduce this by fighting the radicals in your bronchial tubes.
Some studies have shown that NAC can help in treating patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, a condition where a person’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.
On a similar note, its anti-inflammatory capabilities help with snoring!
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a hormonal disease that causes problems for women with their monthly cycles, and can also create difficulties getting pregnant. There have been positive results from studies conducted with women suffering from PCOS, and NAC can help to lessen the symptoms of the disease.
Mental Health and Brain Support
It’s not just a super-effective supplement that can help with physical ailments — N-Acetylcysteine has been proven to be a valuable support for certain mental health conditions too.
Various studies have shown that it has the potential to minimise the effects of psychosis in patients with schizophrenia, and can improve a patient’s memory.
There’s also been research into NAC helping with compulsive behaviours like OCD, or addiction, as it has the ability to normalise the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate.
Research has found that NAC might also have the potential to slow down the loss of cognitive ability caused by Alzheimer’s, which is a neurological disorder that slows down your learning and memory abilities.
NAC Side Effects
N-Acetylcysteine is broadly considered a safe substance that comes with all of those benefits and few known long term side effects — however it should still only be taken in moderation.
Known shorter term side effects include, diarrhoea, constipation, vomiting and, if taken on an empty stomach, nausea. In other instances it has been known to cause drowsiness and clamminess when inhaled.
A warning comes for anyone with pre-existing bleeding disorders, or people who have recently had surgery or blood-thinning meds because of NAC’s anticoagulant and platelet-inhibiting properties.
Due to the vast range of NAC benefits, it can be used in a huge variety of ways — froms sports performance to potentially relieving serious medical conditions. Many of its foremost medical uses include respiratory aid, for example it’s especially useful for those who’ve had a tracheostomy or a collapsed lung, however there is growing research surrounding its use in mental health issues too.
There isn’t an awful lot of research available on cautionary limits on NAC dosages, but the recommended daily dose is 800mg-1,800mg. For general day-to-day purposes, 600mg a day should be more than enough.
Some accounts suggest that NAC should be taken with food. There is not enough concrete proof from research to suggest when the best time to take it is, but in the morning with breakfast is widely recommended.
Take Home Message
From sleep apnea to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, N-Acetylcysteine supplementation has the potential to help with a wide range of medical conditions. It’s also a handy thing to have in your gym kit to combat the aches and pains you might feel after an intense workout.
This powerful amino acid is definitely something to try for your fitness goals, and may well be an option to consider for health problems — but always consult your doctor or a medical professional first.
Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.