Invite Health Podcast, Episode hosted by Amanda Williams, MPH
Today, I want to do an update on N-acetylcysteine. NAC is an incredibly important and very, very powerful precursor to the making of glutathione, which is one of our endogenous antioxidants. NAC in and of itself has antioxidant properties and it does so much besides just helping to support the natural production of glutathione. It helps to reduce inflammatory cytokines and targets bacterial and viral infections. It can help to downregulate NF-kappa beta, which is one of the master regulators for inflammation in the body. It can also help to enhance insulin sensitivity in the body, so for people who have metabolic disorders including prediabetes and diabetes, NAC can be very helpful. When it comes to different areas of the body where oxidative stress is more pronounced, for example, after exercise, NAC can be very, very beneficial. I want to talk about NAC and revisit it because a lot of researchers have been looking at this nutrient in the setting of COVID-19 as a potential treatment option.†
What is NAC?
N-acetylcysteine is the precursor for the primary endogenous antioxidant in the body, glutathione. We have known for a very long time that NAC can help to loosen thick mucus in the lungs when people have COPD and other respiratory issues, so for a lot of people who deal with seasonal allergies, oftentimes adding NAC into their routine during that time can be very beneficial. Not only can it help with the thinning of the mucus, but it is also targeting those inflammatory pathways, which is important because we are typically facing inflammation when we are dealing with seasonal allergies or any type of respiratory issue. NAC can help to tamper that down. Many people know NAC as being the antidote when people take too much acetaminophen. If you overdose on acetaminophen, the way to try to save the liver so you don’t go into acute liver failure is to give a high dose of NAC.†
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NAC is also working within the immune system and that is clear when we look at the way that N-acetylcysteine can help to regulate different genes. Researchers have been able to specifically assess the way that NAC is able to target H. pylori, which we know is that very miserable bacterial infection that is the number one cause for the peptic and duodenal ulcers, as well as gastric cancers.†
N-acetylcysteine is also very targeted when it comes to different viruses. Researchers have certainly looked at influenza and they found that NAC treatment of influenza significantly decreased the frequency, as well as the severity and duration. When looking at the nutrient in that regard, researchers decided to also look at it in regards to COVID-19 patients.†
NAC and COVID-19
In October 2020, there was an overview published in the Medical Hypotheses journal talking about NAC as a potential therapeutic agent for COVID-19. In this overview, they discussed how lowered immune function led to an increase in the risk of disease severity and looking at high levels of inflammatory markers such as TNF alpha, interleukin 6 and interleukin 10. When we get an overproduction of these in the body, we have that cytokine storm. Being that experts know that NAC can target these different mechanisms by which inflammation is driven up in the body, they started to really look at NAC as a potential treatment option for COVID-19.†
In this particular study, they were hypothesizing that N-acetylcysteine could actually act as a therapeutic agent in the treatment of COVID-19 through a variety of mechanisms, including increasing the glutathione, improving T-cell response and modulating inflammation. I think it’s quite notable that NAC isn’t just for making glutathione, it’s doing many other things.†
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The Department of Health Sciences at the University of Genoa in Italy looked at the rationale for using NAC for not only the prevention but also the treatment of COVID-19. Through their research, they focused a lot on the cytokine storm and this systemic inflammatory response that is brought on by an overreaction in the immune system due to COVID exposure. Looking at the oral administration of NAC, they said that it is likely to attenuate the risk of developing COVID-19. This would be because we’re lessening inflammation in the body and at the same time we’re heightening the immune system’s ability to be at the ready. This is another area where they have shown that N-acetylcysteine really does have this power about it.†
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