N-acetylcysteine or Nac is an amino acid close to glutathione, the latter being known for its anti-oxidant properties. Nac, which is originally a medicine, is increasingly known in its food supplement version. Are anti-oxidants essential to our body? What is the difference between Nac and glutathione? How to take it, why? The answers from our expert, Doctor Lucie Bourdy-Dubois, pharmacist and President of the “Pharmacist Profession” commission at the Fédération des Syndicats Pharmaceutiques.
Description of N-acetylcysteine: is it the same as Nac?
The N-acetylcysteine or Nac is an amino acid which enters into the composition of protein cement via the formation of disulfide bonds. These bridges are involved in the structure and stability of cells, which ensures the tissue formation of the body, such as skin, hair and nails. This constituent plays a vital role in metabolic functions of the body, such as the production of hormones and the synthesis of melanin or fatty acids, for example. We also find Nac in the mucus of the respiratory tract.
Furthermore, one of its main roles is the production of glutathionean essential element for the functioning of the immune system and the fight against oxidative stress, which can be the cause of alteration or degradation of our cells.
“N-acetylcysteine is, basically, a medicine allowing disulphide bridges to be broken in order to make people cough and evacuate bronchial secretions., informs us Dr Lucie Bourdy-Dubois, pharmacist and President of the “Pharmacist profession” commission at the Federation of Pharmaceutical Unions. Today, this amino acid is also used in food supplements.
What is the difference between Nac and glutathione?
The glutathione is a tripeptide composed of three amino acids: cysteinel’glutamic acid and the glycine. The N-acetylcysteine is a precursor of glutathione: Nac is essential for the synthesis of glutathione. The latter is a protein, a form of amino acid. There N-acetylcysteine has indirect antioxidant properties by promoting the production of glutathione, which is a powerful intracellular antioxidant. In other words, indirectly, Nac protects our cells from damage caused by oxidative stress.
Effects and benefits: why take Nac?
In addition: fight against oxidative stress
The N-acetylcysteine has antioxidant properties to combat oxidative stress. As pharmacy doctor Lucie Bourdy-Dubois explains to us, “our body produces free radicals which oxidize a lot of things, including cells. Oxidative stress promotes premature aging of the body, providing a breeding ground for certain disorders.“.
In terms of the benefits of Nac, it helps activate the body’s immune defenses and may have a certain interest in fighting against cell oxidation, but only in certain situations.
As a medicine delivered in pharmacies: mucolytic properties
The N-acetylcysteine is used as a mucolytic type mucomodifier in pulmonology. NAC exerts its action on the gel phase of mucus, by breaking the disulfide bonds of glycoproteins. It is therefore indicated in the treatment of bronchial secretion disorders, particularly during acute bronchial conditions (acute bronchitis and acute episode of chronic bronchopneumopathies) and thus promotes expectoration.
Hepatic antitoxic effects
Nac has a protective effect on hepatocytes, which are the cells of the liver. For example, excess paracetamol can lead to the formation of metabolites that are toxic to the liver. And according to our expert, “Nac is used as an antidote for people who take a lot of paracetamol. The goal is to avoid liver toxicity. However, the administration of N-acetyl cysteine for liver detoxification is only done in a hospital setting, intravenously.“, she specifies. Thus, Nac protects the liver from potentially serious lesions, such as liver necrosis.
N-acetyl l-cysteine: in what form?
The shape of the Nac depends on whether it is a medical treatment or not. It can be a powder to dilute or a syrup. The most common forms of food supplements are capsules.
Why take it as a food supplement?
Taking food supplements must always be supervised. Indeed, as indicated by ANSES, the National Health Security Agency, there is very little nutritional deficit in Europe in the general population, and in the rare cases where it exists, it concerns vitamin D. However, some people may be more vulnerable than others at certain periods of life: pregnant women, children or the elderly. People who are stressed or those who do not eat a balanced diet may also need dietary supplements from time to time.
“With any food supplements that we can take, we must be very careful”, advises Dr. Lucie Bourdy-Dubois. “Anyone can develop a deficiency at some point in their life. For example, in times of stress, magnesium supplementation may be recommended: in fact, the body increases its magnesium consumption. However, medical advice or the advice of your pharmacist is essential..
“The main thing is to choose food supplements in a validated and serious circuit. Furthermore, the status of food supplement guarantees dosages which, a priori, are not harmful to the health of the consumer, explains the pharmacist. Our current lifestyle is oxidizing, even inflammatory: our food is industrial, sleep disorders are frequent, physical activity is insufficient… The main thing is to avoid going overboard and taking too many supplements. food or too often. As part of a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle, the ideal is to eat fresh fruits and vegetables as well as good fats such as rapeseed oil and fatty fish..”
Also, certain foods and ingredients are rich in cysteineof which N-acetylcysteine is the synthetic derivative, such as Brussels sprouts, onion, broccoli, yogurts and even brewer’s yeast.
N-acetylcysteine dosage: is it okay to take it every day?
Dosage in case of bronchitis: 600 mg?
According to the summary of product characteristics, the dosage for Nac in sachet form is 600 mg per day, in 3 doses per day orally, for an adult or a child over 7 years old. In any case, in the event of symptoms, you must consult your doctor, one of the only health professionals who can prescribe a correct dosage.
Dosage as a food supplement
“In the form of food supplements (capsules, tablets, etc.), it is recommended to follow the recommendations and the daily dose written on the box, as this dosage will not be toxic.“, the specialist informs us.
Side effects and contraindications of N-acetylcysteine
“The N-acetylcysteine is not recommended for children under two years of age, because there is a risk of bronchial congestion linked to excess sputum. Pregnant women should consult their midwife, doctor or pharmacist before taking anything. They should not follow a particular diet or consume essential oils without consulting. I recommend that they go, if necessary, to the CRAT website, the reference center for research and scientific studies on pathogens.“
Among the contraindications, we find a history of gastric ulcer, bronchial asthma, hypersensitivity or allergy to acetylcysteine.
At the level of Side effects possible, the most common are gastrointestinal disorders. Overdoses can lead to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Precautions for use with N-acetylcysteine
“Long-term use presents a risk of overdose. Nac is therefore taken by treatment, reminds our pharmacist. And to inform us that “Oxidative stress is not always as harmful as we think, it’s all a question of balance between oxidation and anti-oxidation. We call this radical balance. To summarize, the body produces free radicals which oxidize our cells and tissues and our own immune defenses are responsible for fighting against them. We can support our body by taking Nac, but it is not systematically necessary. Cellular oxidation can indeed be very important: for example, in the case of cancer treatment, we can seek to have oxidation so that the body defends itself against the tumor. Medications that oxidize can then be prescribed: this is therefore absolutely not the right time to take vitamin C, glutathione or N-acetylcysteine, which risks compromising the effects of the treatment,” specifies Dr Bourdy-Dubois.
History of N-acetylcysteine
The Nac has been widely used in the pharmaceutical and medical fields, particularly to treat acute hepatic paracetamol poisoning and for his mucolytic properties. It can also be used in radiology to prevent nephropathy induced by contrast products or in ophthalmology as an eye drop.
For several years, the Nac arouses interest in the market for…