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As patients attempt to fight chronic illnesses, they often investigate a range of remedies to help relieve their symptoms. The right treatment can even help to allay several problems at once. N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is seemingly capable of doing just this; it can be used to fight a number of chronic illnesses, from inflammation to ageing, depression to Lyme disease. But what is NAC, exactly? And just how can NAC help fight chronic illness?
What Is N-Acetyl Cysteine?
N-acetyl cysteine, also known as NAC, is essentially just a form of a common amino acid called cysteine. While cysteine itself is prone to oxidation, NAC is its more stable chemical form. This naturally occurring molecule replenishes the body through its antioxidative properties, functioning as a precursor of cysteine and glutathione. It is also known to have mucolytic properties, meaning it can also be used to treat chronic diseases such as cystic fibrosis and other inflammatory conditions.
NAC can be produced in different ways and using different materials. Its production often involves animal-derived products, or a fermentative process utilising microorganisms from glucose or inorganic salts. Make Well, a German company that offers high-quality dietary and herbal supplements to doctors and clinical practitioners around the world, has also proved it possible to produce vegan NAC – that is, without using any materials derived from animal sources.
How Can NAC Help Fight Chronic Illness?
So just how does this multifaceted medication help fight chronic illness? As previously mentioned, it has mucolytic properties – meaning it can split the linkages of mucoproteins and help to reduce viscosity. For this reason, NAC is also used for coughs and other respiratory diseases with increased mucus formation.
One chronic disease in which NAC can aid respiratory issues is cystic fibrosis – a condition that causes the mucus that coats the breathing tubes to become so thick and sticky that the cilia are unable to sweep bacteria out of the lungs. The trapped bacteria can lead to frequent, serious infections and even permanent lung damage. NAC can help to loosen the thick mucus secretions in the airways of cystic fibrosis patients, making mucus less dense and therefore easier to cough out.
Despite NAC being typically known for its anti-inflammatory properties, it is also capable of aiding in the treatment of psychiatric disorders and relieving symptoms of depression. It does this by increasing the availability of antioxidants in the brain; oxidative damage is thought to be part of the problem with stress and depression. The naturally produced antioxidant glutathione, which we mentioned above, is often found to be lacking in those showing signs of depression or psychiatric disorders. The oxidative properties of NAC allow it to help increase these levels.
Some studies suggest that, in combination with antibiotics, NAC may also increase the chances of healing for patients infected with Helicobacter pylori – a type of bacteria that can live and thrive in the body’s digestive system. While the bacteria are usually treatable, some strains can develop resistance to many antibiotics; this has resulted in the testing of NAC as a treatment option. However, its success still needs to be investigated further. Other studies have shown that NAC may also help to alter cravings in case of substance addiction and abuse, and that it can also be used as an antidote in paracetamol intoxication by counteracting the hepatotoxic effects.
Can NAC Be Used To Treat Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is estimated to affect 300,000 people per year in the United States and 65,000 people per year in Europe. Many would not associate a molecule known to treat inflammation with the treatment of a bacterial infection like Lyme, but here’s how it actually might be able to help.
NAC, comprised in part by cysteine, is an essential component of the formation of glutathione – an antioxidant that can prevent damage to cells. Low levels of cysteine result in lower glutathione. Therefore, administering NAC can help to increase levels of glutathione in the body.
NAC also has a reputation for inhibiting biofilms – communities of micro-organisms that inhibit the effectiveness of full-spectrum antibiotic therapy. So it’s possible to see how using NAC alongside antibiotics can potentially help treat Lyme disease.
However, there are a few caveats for its use. NAC influences the histamine metabolism, so it is not recommended for people with a history of histamine intolerance. It may also interact with several antibiotic treatments, so if antibiotics and NAC are taken simultaneously, there should be a gap of two hours between the separate doses.