Interested in NAC? Check out this post on MSM to learn why I prefer it.
How I discovered NAC (N-acetylcysteine)
About a year ago I came down with tinnitus. For those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s a noticeable and annoying ringing in the ears. Initially it was much worse but after figuring out that it was possibly due to a virus or congestion in my ears, and taking some decongestants, the majority of it subsided, but it never completely left.
I started talking with my family and found that my brother and father also reported having bouts of ringing in the ears and like mine it sometimes gets worse and then subsides again.
I started looking around for information on what really causes tinnitus. What I found is that tinnitus isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom. Something else is wrong which causes a person to hear ringing that isn’t really there. It turns out that the way sound is transmitted to the brain is through the neurotransmitter, Glutamate and it is believed that an excess of glutamate is what causes the brain to perceive sound when none is present.
This is how I came to find out about NAC which some doctors were prescribing to their patients who were experiencing tinnitus after exposure to extremely loud noises, and while people with damage from loud noises must have it administered quickly to repair the damage, I thought it wouldn’t hurt – especially since I believe that any damage I might have would have been caused by a virus. I found that NAC has many uses which I’ll talk about more in this article.
What is NAC (N-acetylcysteine)?
N-acetylecysteine is an amino acid that is found naturally in the body. It is used by our bodies to produce one of the most powerful antioxidants substances known to man, Glutathione. Glutathione is a simple molecule renowned for it’s ability to scavenge damaging free radicals which can lead to disease and premature aging. What’s more, our diets are rich in the other chemicals necessary for our bodies to make Glutathione – Glycine and Glutamic Acid, but our diets typically aren’t rich in sulfur containing foods – which contain cysteine.
Uses for NAC:
There have been a ton of studies on NAC and if you have some time I recommend you google it or check out Medline. Traditionally NAC has been used as an expectorant which helps break up mucus in the lungs so it’s easier to cough up to protect patients who are undergoing kidney tests as some of the dyes can be quite dangerous to our bodies, and most commonly to treat alcohol and acetaminophen (Tylenol) poisoning (see a more complete list at WebMD).
It’s been researched for it’s ability to help boost male fertility when used with selenium, to speed up recovery after physical exercise (see Medline article linked in the disclaimer section) and has been used to treat patients with hearing damage. It’s also been used to treat patients with Ataxia (a disorder that effects body movement), has been indicated to help treat psychological disorders like OCD, Schizophrenia and cocaine addiction. It’s been used to treat people with Cystic Fibrosis, to prevent certain types of cancer, to rid the body of heavy metals and other environmental toxins and has few serious side effects.
Side Effects of NAC (N-aceytlcysteine):
First the bad news! Keep in mind that NAC is a drug, and just as you wouldn’t take Tylenol or Vicodin every day you probably should be careful with NAC. Some research indicates that (at least in mice) NAC in high doses may cause pulmonary hypertension because it fools the body into thinking that it has a shortage of oxygen, while another study indicates that NAC is effective in preventing Hypoxic Pulmonary Hypertension… so I take it all with a grain of salt and err on the side of caution by taking it less than daily and in low doses.
What people don’t know is if this effect is cumulative over time, meaning that if low dose NAC may have the same effect if taken over many years. Something worth mentioning is that many people report taking 600-1200mg daily without issue and it has been used in many different countries for a long time. NAC is generally considered to be quite safe, however there is limited research out there to show without a doubt that it is. There also isn’t a lot of research on whether increasing glutathione is healthy in the longterm or if stopping NAC can cause problems as well. Since NAC cannot be patented, and cannot benefit drug companies, most studies conducted on it have been quite small – leaving many things unanswered.
Minor Side Effects of NAC (N-acetylcysteine)
Just like any other medication some people report runny noses, swelling of the mouth, drowsiness, clamminess, and chest tightness. WebMD also cautions people not to take it if they have an allergy to N-acetylcysteine.
My experience with NAC:
So far I’ve taken a little over 30 capsules of NAC over the last two months. I’ve noticed a significant improvement when I started to come down with the flu, and when I had to sit in a recently painted office for 3 days. I also have noticed a reduction in my tinnitus and feeling less sluggish the morning following having more than 1 alcoholic beverage. As far as side effects, I can’t really say that I’ve had any at all. I have had a few headaches, but it is not unusual for me because I tend to clench my teeth at night.
Alternative to NAC:
If you want to raise glutathione levels for the possible anti-aging or liver protective benefits but don’t want to mess around with NAC, many recommend Undenatured Whey Protein which is also rich in Cysteine. There are many brands but one in particular stood out, Immunocal. I haven’t done much research on it and being such, I can’t endorse it. If you google undenatured whey protein the brand will pop up on a number of different blogs. Andrew Weil commented in one of his blog posts (Getting More Glutathione) that Immunocal has little research indicating effectiveness but that it was most likely safe to take. He also mentioned a bias because it was sold through a Multi-level Marketing company which he is personally opposed to.