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Get the NAC: N-Acetyl-Cysteine

Posted on by Evergreen Nutrition
Image Get the NAC: N-Acetyl-Cysteine

Amino acids singly can have many therapeutic uses and physiological benefits to the body. Lysine, arginine, and glutamine are perhaps some of the best-known and best-selling single amino acids. There is a lesser-known amino, often flying under the radar, which possesses probably more health benefits and functions than any of its showier cousins. N-acetyl cysteine, (NAC for short), is the superior, more stable and safe form of the amino acid L-cysteine. L-cysteine is a non-essential amino acid that can be manufactured in the body from an essential amino acid, methionine. It is best known for its detoxification properties, which work in several pathways. First, it binds toxins and draws them out of the body; second, it activates major detoxification enzymes; and third, it protects cell membranes through its potent free-radical scavenging activity. As mentioned, L-cysteine, despite its beneficial properties, is somewhat unstable, and can be stabilized by being attached to an acetyl group. The resulting molecule is a powerhouse, offering profound protection to nearly every body system. 


NAC accumulates and is stored in the highest amounts in four organs, the lungs, liver, kidneys, and bone marrow, and has a special affinity with each. In its original form, NAC is a powerful antioxidant, exerting some of its benefits through free-radical scavenging, including within the cell. Where it really shines, however, is as an extraordinarily effective precursor to the body's premier endogenous antioxidant molecule glutathione. This compound is then metabolized to the two powerful antioxidant enzymes in the body, Glutathione Peroxidase and Glutathione Transferase. The former's activity includes breaking down toxic lipid peroxides (rancid fats), which are extremely damaging compounds, and the latter is one of the liver's main broad-spectrum detoxifying enzymes. Glutathione itself works against three of the most damaging free-radicals, including the super-oxide hydroxyl radical.

NAC with Molecules in Background


NAC is one of your liver's best friends. Since the liver is attacked by toxins on a regular basis more so than the rest of the body, its detoxification responsibilities are/need to be maintained at a high level. Most of this protection is due to adequate glutathione levels. The damaging effects of alcohol are due to its metabolite after ingestion, acetaldehyde, and this compound is counteracted by NAC/glutathione. Heavy or binge drinkers may protect their livers by a simple dose of NAC before, during, or after alcohol consumption. The pain-relieving drug acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a liver toxin in proper amounts (particularly when combined with alcohol), and can be very dangerous, causing many fatalities every year. It destroys the liver by decreasing glutathione levels, essentially shutting down proper detox ability. Hospital emergency rooms and poison control centers are well-versed with this situation and keep NAC on-hand to counteract acetaminophen overdoses! 

Lungs with NAC

Lung Protection

Like the liver, the lungs deal with toxins regularly in their receipt of air from outside the body. Particulate matter and toxins are filtered and thus the rest of the body is protected. One study at Harvard Medical School showed that when alveolar macrophages (white blood cells that function to protect the lungs from air-borne invaders) were exposed to cigarette smoke, they became poisoned and ceased to break down germs. When these poisoned alveolar macrophages were enhanced with glutathione, however, their ability to kill germs was sustained. Cigarette smoke also produces the afore-mentioned acetaldehyde as a waste product, causing some of the damage to the lungs. By virtue of glutathione's detoxification of this compound, and many other toxins found in smoke, NAC has great potential benefit to smokers. NAC is a famously powerful mucolytic, breaking down and eliminating accumulated mucus from the lungs. In addition to facilitating breathing, toxins and germs threatening the lungs are also removed. People with various lung disorders such as bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema may derive great benefit here. The Northwest's summer wildfires have repeatedly decreased air quality due to smoke. One of our vendors with an NAC-based respiratory support product generously donated cases of this product to firefighters battling the last two summers' blazes, and had tremendous positive feedback from the firefighters later. Every person taking the supplement noticed a dramatic improvement in their lung function and reaction to smoky air.

Other Benefits

Candida organisms excrete acetaldehyde as a waste product and this is responsible for much of the bodily damage associated with Candidiasis. NAC has been proven to counteract its toxic effects. NAC is vital to the immune system. It helps to activate antibodies, improves the function of white blood cells, helps to inhibit replication of the Hepatitis B virus, helps to prevent influenza infection, and may help to prevent various cancers due to its antimutagenic activity. It also has been shown to prevent metastasis of many types of cancer. It has been shown helpful in cognitive performance aspects of Alzheimer's disease. It may help to prevent Parkinson's disease. It improves lung function in people with pneumonia and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). NAC also counteracts the toxic effects of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic.

NAC SustainDosages are generally 600 mg 1-3 times per day. There are some sustained-release products available. It is recommended to take Vitamin C along with it as NAC may precipitate in the form of cysteine in the kidneys and possibly cause kidney stones in some people. We stock this amazing multi-tasking amino acid in the amino section, next to the antioxidants.

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