N-Acetylcysteine Benefits and Side Effects

The N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) molecule is a derivative of the sulfur-containing amino acid cysteine. It is a stable form of cysteine that works as an antioxidant that supports the immune system of the body that fights off toxins. Within the body, N-Acetylcysteine is converted to intracellular glutathione, the body’s premier antioxidant. Studies have demonstrated the NAC has a important role to play in the management of cancer, HIV, heart disease, heavy metal toxicity, and other diseases characterised by free radical, oxidant damage.

N-Acetylcysteine Benefits

N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) has been used successfully to treat glutathione deficiency in a wide range of infections, genetic defects and metabolic disorders, including HIV infection and COPD. Several studies have shown that NAC can help protect the lungs from carcinogens found in tobacco smoke, maintain the liver against the toxic effects of alcohol, and reduce toxic side effects of some medicines used to treat cancer. To treat drug-induced liver toxicity NAC is an effective therapy for acetaminophen poisoning.


Along with glycine and glutamic acid N-Acetylcysteine is a precursor to glutathione, which is the body’s most important cellular antioxidant. Glutathione is important antioxidant produced by the body to help protect against free radical damage, and is a critical factor in supporting a healthy immune system. The liver produces glutathione, an antioxidant, and also other enzymes that shield the body from disease causing toxins and other harmful foreign body that enters the body. NAC helps the liver produce the antioxidant glutathione, and it also produces enzymes that protect the body from disease. When taken internally, N-Acetylcysteine replenishes intracellular levels of the natural antioxidant glutathione, helping to restore cells’ capability to fight damage from reactive oxygen species. Without glutathione, your body’s immune system would be greatly compromised, and left with little defense against toxins and disease.

Chronic Bronchitis

Was first developed as a therapeutic for its ability to break up mucus in the lungs in conditions like bronchitis. A meta-analysis was performed on eight randomized controlled trials that have studied N-Acetylcysteine for preventing exacerbations of chronic bronchitis. Doses from 400 to 1200 mg/day were very effective in reducing the risk of bronchitis exacerbations. The mucolytic properties of NAC are due to its capability to liquefy disulfide bonds. By breaking up di-sulfur bonds, N-acetylcysteine shortens the chain-length of mucus proteins, thus thinning the mucus.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

N-Acetylcysteine reduces the frequency and duration of attacks of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and may slow the clinical course of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. According to a study reported in the June 2006 edition of the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, a 600 mg daily dose of N-Acetylcysteine can be effective in the management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In a 2010 study published in the European Respiratory Review, NAC was shown to be influential at reducing symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in patients not using inhaled medications.


N-Acetylcysteine is used as an antidote for liver toxicity caused by acetaminophen poisoning, which can be life-threatening. Also, shown to be helpful at treating liver failure from other causes. Paracetamol poisoning is induced primarily by depletion of glutathione stores in the liver. Oral n-acetylcysteine is transported to the liver where it counteracts the drop in glutathione levels caused by paracetamol administration. May also play a role in protecting the liver from heavy metal poisoning by copper, mercury, lead, and arsenic.


Treating HIV patients for 8 weeks with NAC replenishes glutathione, making it a beneficial complementary treatment to boost the immune system, protect against oxidative stress and increase detoxification of medications. “The University of Hawaii” indicates N-Acetylcysteine as part of an antioxidant regimen, is a supplement used by patients afflicted  with HIV/AIDS.


Animal-based studies suggests that NAC has anticarcinogenic and antimetastatic effects. Colon cancer, which has been associated with the growth of abnormal polyps cells, can be prevented with N-Acetylcysteine which discourages the growth of this  anomalous tissue. A study reported in February 2002 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention indicates that taking NAC when you smoke may help inhibit cancer biomarker development.

N-Acetylcysteine Food Sources

N-Acetylcysteine is not found naturally in nutrient sources; but cysteine is present in most high protein foods. (N-Acetylcysteine converts into cysteine.) Pork, chicken, sausage, turkey, fish, yogurt, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese contain cysteine. Oat flakes, broccoli, red pepper, soy beans, bananas, garlic, and onion are significant sources of cysteine.

NAC Dosage

Typical dosages range of 250-1500 mg a day. NAC can be taken orally in tablet form, or it can be administered intravenously. When taking NAC it is recommended that 2 to 3 times as much vitamin C be taken at the same time.

N-Acetylcysteine Side Effects

Overall, N-Acetylcysteine is well tolerated. high doses can cause gastrointestinal disturbances, nausea and vomiting. Although uncommon, important NAC side effects include anaphylaxis, asthma, and hypotension. When taken over a long period, N-Acetylcysteine mineral depletion may call for copper and zinc supplementation in the diet. Remember to talk with your doctor before starting a new supplement.

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