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N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a supplement that has been available for several decades. People take it for various reasons, including to help treat medical issues ranging from psychological disorders to chronic lung conditions and to improve athletic performance.
Keep reading to learn how NAC may benefit the body. We also describe risks, including side effects, associated with the supplement.
Researchers have investigated the potential for NAC to help treat a wide variety of health issues. Some research indicates that NAC supplementation may help in the following ways.
Treating psychiatric conditions
Increasing the amount of NAC in the body may boost levels of some neurotransmitters, and this may improve a person’s mental function.
According to a
While research into NAC as a means of relieving psychiatric symptoms may be promising, most doctors would not recommend it as a sole treatment.
Instead, a person should rely upon evidence-based treatments, such as therapy and medication, when applicable. A doctor can provide advice about using NAC to supplement traditional treatment.
Treating lung conditions and excess mucus
That said, clinical trials of NAC as a treatment for lung disease have arrived at mixed results, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Improving insulin sensitivity in people with PCOS
Authors of a 2017 review in
This syndrome can lead to insulin resistance and increases in blood sugar. The researchers reported evidence that NAC may help reduce high blood sugar in people with PCOS.
However, NAC is no substitute for medications such as insulin or other methods of blood sugar control. It may only be helpful as a supplement.
Reducing the risk of preterm birth
According to the same 2017 review, NAC supplements may help reduce the risk of preterm birth.
Infections such as bacterial vaginosis may increase the risk of preterm delivery, and the body’s inflammatory response may further raise the risk. Because NAC combats inflammation, the authors report, it may help counter this risk factor for preterm birth.
The authors refer to a study in which taking
NAC may have a similar effect when a woman takes it in combination with folic acid, the authors report.
However, as with any supplement, it is important to consult a doctor about its safety before taking it during pregnancy.
Treating acetaminophen overdose
Doctors can use NAC to treat acetaminophen overdoses.
Acetaminophen is an analgesic that can relieve aches, pains, and a fever. If a person experiences an overdose of this drug, administering NAC within
Other potential benefits
- nicotine dependence
- marijuana dependence
- cocaine dependence
- gambling addiction
- pathological nail biting
- pathological skin picking
NAC is available over the counter in pharmacies and health stores.
The side effects of NAC supplementation are usually mild and may include:
People taking nitroglycerin — as pills, patches, or creams — should not take NAC, as the combination could cause extremely low blood pressure and headaches.
NAC is an antioxidant that may reduce inflammation. Taking it as a supplement may help improve symptoms of a number of medical conditions.
It is crucial to note, however, that most research into NAC supplementation has taken place on a small scale. Determining the extent of the supplement’s benefits will require further research.
Anyone who wishes to try NAC supplements should consult a doctor first.