The amino acid L-cysteine is one of the standard building blocks used by the body to produce the countless proteins it needs: enzymes, structural proteins, signalling molecules and their receptors, and small polypeptide molecules with specialized functions. One such polypeptide, ‘glutathione’, is an essential antioxidant that protects cells from being damaged or killed by stray free radicals.
Since glutathione is crucially important for preventing cellular damage and the diseases that result from such damage, there is good reason to increase the amount of L-cysteine available to the body for making it. The trouble is, if cysteine is used as a supplement, it can be neurotoxic. This toxicity can be avoided by using N-acetylcysteine (NAC) instead of cysteine itself.
NAC’s remarkable biological benefits
NAC is one of the most studied of all supplements. In the 1960s it was found to be useful for people with cystic fibrosis and other pulmonary ailments. It later garnered the attention of HIV researchers, and has now been investigated for many other medical conditions.
The list of medical applications of NAC is a very long one, and includes the following categories:
- Pulmonary and respiratory ailments
- Muscle fatigue
- Neurological conditions
- Neurodegenerative diseases
- Sickle cell disease
- Muscle-degenerative conditions
- Cardiovascular ailments
- Immune system problems
- Fatty liver disease
Let us look at one of the many intriguing applications of this supplement:
NAC interferes with cardiovascular damage.
Whenever food is cooked, some of the sugars in the food are converted into substances called ‘AGEs’ (Advanced Glycation Endproducts). These are inflammatory chemicals that, when consumed, cause damage to the walls of arteries and veins, as well as accelerated aging in other tissues in the body. The body actually produces its own AGEs from sugars, but usually in smaller amounts than are found in cooked food. Diabetics, however, have a much higher AGE burden than non-diabetics do, because diabetes causes spikes in blood sugar levels.
In an important 2004 paper, researchers reported that diabetics experience substantially less damage to arteries when their consumption of AGEs is reduced. Furthermore, NAC interferes with a key process through which AGEs produce inflammation and tissue damage, and actually prevents AGEs from damaging vascular cells.
NAC suppresses many other harmful processes taking place in the body. It is an inexpensive supplement that is safe and easy to obtain — so it would be foolish not to take advantage of it.