N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is a supplement produced from cysteine, one of the non-essential amino acids (building blocks of protein). Amino acids help form protein-based structures in the body like muscles and immune systems. Enzymes that act as catalysts to important biochemical processes are also made up of proteins. N-acetyl cysteine is used by the body to manufacture glutathione, a very powerful antioxidant. NAC has different therapeutic uses with its benefits for the immune system, respiratory functions, and many others.
The benefits of NAC are primarily due to its antioxidant activities. Antioxidants help stabilise free radicals, unstable oxygen species by donating electron bonds to render them harmless. The body produces free radicals from the metabolic processes in the body and as response to stress, disease, and inflammation. Free radicals causes oxidative stress by damaging the cellular membrane, DNA, RNA, and other important structures in the cell, leading to loss of cell functions and eventually cell death. Free radical damage has been closely linked to premature ageing and the progression of age-related diseases.
Doctors prescribe N-acetyl Cysteine to restore normal respiratory functions in chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, and tuberculosis. It appears that NAC exhibit mucolytic action by liquefying disulphide bonds in mucus that usually obstructs the airways, causing respiratory symptoms. Mucolytic agents liquefy the respiratory secretions to facilitate easier expectoration to improve breathing and provide relief to coughing and other respiratory symptoms. It is also used to neutralise acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose. Acetaminophen is the most commonly used over-the-counter drug for pain relief worldwide. Acetaminophen overdose is characterised by abdominal pain, nausea, poor appetite, and vomiting. Acute acetaminophen overdose can lead to life-threatening conditions like liver damage and kidney failure.
N-acetyl cysteine supplements help boost glutathione levels. Glutathione is the most abundant antioxidant in the body that renders protection against free radical damage. High levels of glutathione provide skin care and prevent the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and other visible signs of ageing. It is also involved in detoxification of potentially harmful compounds and microorganisms from food, drugs, and alcohol.
NAC benefits the immune system for stronger defences against infections and helps detoxify heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, and lead. Additionally, it is also used to facilitate excretion of high-contrast dyes used during diagnostic imaging scans. These dyes used during CT scans, Intravenous Pyelogram, and lower gastrointestinal series can damage the kidneys when not properly excreted.
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