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N-acetylcysteine is classified as a dietary supplement. It is an acylated form of the semi-essential amino acid cysteine. Cysteine is a sulphur containing amino acid which can become essential in certain conditions, such as regeneration of wounds or recovery from an infection.
The amino acid is typically found in protein-rich foods such as turkey, chicken, cheese, eggs, yoghurt and sunflower seeds. It can also be found in legumes and other meats. One of the dietary supplement versions of cysteine is N-acetylcysteine, or NAC for short. So what are the benefits of N-acetylcysteine? And could N-acetylcysteine serve as a potentially beneficial agent for patients with COVID-19? Let’s find out.
What is N-acetylcysteine used for and how does it work?
There are many uses for N-acetylcysteine. Research has shown that the supplement may be helpful in regeneration and wound healing, and could also provide antioxidative properties, as cysteine is a part of the tripeptide glutathione, a master antioxidant. It has also been used in the past as a way to treat paracetamol intoxication, which is an overdose of acetaminophen, and as a mucolytic agent.
The way it works differs depending on what it is used for. In the case of overdose, the supplement works through protective mechanisms. Being a precursor to glutathione, a substance produced in the liver, NAC has the ability to essentially excrete the harmful substances out of the body as quickly as possible. When it is used as a supplement, it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help to keep the body free of inflammation and balanced when it comes to free radicals. It also helps to increase blood flow and enhance oxygen delivery throughout the body and its tissues.
As mentioned above, N-acetylcysteine helps the body create glutathione. Since glutathione acts as a powerful antioxidant, it helps to ward off oxidative stress, which can cause damage to the cells. By balancing free radicals, NAC can help to eliminate or reduce any damage. Because of its ability to ward off oxidative stress, it has also been shown to reduce the risk of developing heart disease and infertility.
The supplement can also help to prevent liver and kidney damage by encouraging the body’s natural detoxification process. Glutathione is an important antioxidant when it comes to brain health, and NAC can help to restore and replenish it, increasing the brain’s ability to function properly.
Some research has found that N-acetylcysteine could also help different chronic health ailments including chronic fatigue, mental health and mood disorders, and respiratory conditions such as COPD. Recently, NAC has been investigated as a potentially beneficial agent for those suffering from the COVID-19 virus.
Is taking a NAC supplement good for viral infections?
COVID-19 has been running rampant since its initial outbreak a year ago, and medical professionals have been consistently looking for ways to help treat people who become infected. A recent study of N-acetylcysteine in patients with COVID-19 infections found that because of its anti-inflammatory characteristics and its ability to modulate the immune system, NAC may be a beneficial addition to the treatment protocol in some cases when it comes to COVID-19.
The study also notes the possibility that patients who take NAC during treatment with other antiviral agents could see a reduction in how long they are in the hospital, how long they need ventilation, and even their rates of death.
The newly explored research on the subject has led many scientists to the conclusion that there may be several benefits of using NAC against the viral infection. One particular study notes that because of the oxidative stress imbalance that occurs in some COVID-19 patients, using NAC to encourage higher levels of glutathione could reduce levels of oxidative stress, thus helping to restore balance to the body.
The current research on NAC and COVID-19 is promising, but yet many facts need to be elucidated and many trials in the future are to be conducted to learn more about those connections. N-acetylcysteine is not to be looked at as a cure, though – only as supplemental treatment that may help to prevent a grave outcome in patients suffering from the viral infection.