Cysteine (NAC) is the supplemental version of cysteine. Cysteine is a semi-essential amino acid. This means your body can produce it so long as other amino acids are present. When the diet intake of other amino acids is low, it becomes necessary to get cysteine through supplements. 

Maintaining cysteine levels through the consumption of NAC is important for a number of reasons. Most important of these is that NAC replenishes glutathione, a powerful antioxidant in the body. Not only can this antioxidant help prevent oxidative damage and disease, but it plays a large role in boosting your immune system function.

How N-Acetyl Cysteine Boosts Immune Function

To understand the importance of  NAC, it is important to understand the role of glutathione. Glutathione is considered to be the “master antioxidant” because of its powerful healing properties. This antioxidant boosts the levels of other antioxidants such as vitamins E and C, which can help to support immunity. 

There are several ways in which glutathione, replenished by NAC, enhances your immune function.

Fight Inflammation

Inflammation is a popular health topic as it has been linked to chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In fact, inflammation lies at the heart of the most serious diseases that Americans face. While inflammation is a necessary part of the immune response, it becomes dangerous at chronic levels. 

NAC replenishes levels of glutathione, which then regulates immune cells and inflammatory activity. This promotes healthy immune activity by restricting the inflammatory response of pathogens. Chronic inflammation that can damage the body will be prevented. 

Boost Immunity

NAC activates glutathione, which keeps your immune system ready to fight infections. Glutathione primes T cells and natural killer cells, allowing them to produce more infection-fighting substances. With the NAC boost, your immune cells are better able to control both viral and bacterial infections. 

Additional studies have also found that the glutathione created from NAC has an antibacterial effect, helping macrophages of the immune system target and destroy invading bacteria. 

Reverse Immune Suppression

There are several chronic infections such as herpes simplex, hepatitis, and Lyme disease that suppress the immune system. Individuals with these infections or autoimmune diseases show imbalance glutathione levels. 

NAC supplementation increases glutathione, restoring natural killer cells that prevent viral replication and reduce the symptoms of the illness. NAC also significantly increases immune function by reversing suppression through glutathione activity. 

Additional Benefits of N-Acetyl Cysteine

In addition to supporting healthy immune function, NAC benefits other systems within the body too. 

Boost brain health: The ability of NAC to replenish glutathione levels in the brain and regulate glutamate, benefits brain health. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in learning, memory, and behavior. The antioxidant properties of glutathione protect brain cells from oxidative damage associated with aging. Studies have shown that NAC can slow cognitive loss in those with Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, NAC reduces damage to cells that produce dopamine, which reduces the risk and damage caused by Parkinson’s disease. 

Protect your heart: Oxidative damage to heart tissues increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. NAC is known to reduce oxidative damage, which can protect the heart. NAC also increases nitric oxide production in the body, which dilates the veins and increases blood flow, and it also reduces damage caused by LDL (bad) cholesterol. NAC protects your heart via both of these mechanisms, reducing your risk of heart disease. 

Stabilize blood sugar: High blood sugar and obesity are common contributors to chronic disease. Both contribute to inflammation in fat tissue. This can damage insulin receptors, which increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. Supplementing with NAC has been found to reduce the inflammation in fat cells, which improves insulin resistance. Healthy insulin receptors can properly remove glucose from the blood to help you maintain healthy blood glucose levels. 

Taking N-Acetyl Cysteine

Your body is able to produce very small amounts of cysteine, so there are no specific dietary recommendations for NAC. You can get cysteine from protein-rich foods, but many choose to take NAC supplements in order to maintain optimal levels of health. 

In supplemental form, it is recommended to take between 600 and 1,800 milligrams of NAC per day. As a supplemental nutrient, NAC is considered safe for consumption. Always use a supplement from a reputable name that contains clinically proven ingredients. 

Side Effects and Warnings

High amounts of NAC may cause mild side effects, including nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting. In very rare cases, taking NAC can cause rashes, fever, headaches, low blood pressure, and liver problems. NAC should not be taken by pregnant women unless otherwise advised by their doctor. 

You should also avoid taking NAC if:

♦ You have an allergy to NAC
♦ You have asthma 
♦ You have a bleeding disorder
♦ You are planning to or have just had surgery

NAC can also interact with nitroglycerin by increasing its effects. This can result in increased severity of side effects. Consult your doctor if you use nitroglycerin or if any of the situations above apply to you. 

The Bottom Line

NAC is a beneficial amino acid supplement. While your body can make small amounts of cysteine, supplementing with NAC enhances levels, allowing you to support optimal immune function. To make sure you get the strongest immune system and best defense against infection, make sure to add NAC supplements to your daily routine.