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N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC): Lower Inflammation and Stop Cravings

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC): Lower Inflammation and Stop Cravings

  • N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is a powerful supplement for brain function, addiction, depression, and more.
  • NAC increases glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant, by about 30 percent. It helps you fight off oxidative stress and free radical damage, which blocks inflammation and slows down aging.
  • It can also help with addiction, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). In some cases NAC is as effective as prescription drugs, without any of the side effects.
  • Read below for the best NAC supplements and the right NAC dosage.

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is an amino acid (a building block of protein) that can supercharge your performance and slow down aging. 

NAC is on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines because it can treat a variety of issues, from liver damage to asthma.[1]  

Now, new research shows that NAC carries a host of other benefits, too.

“N-acetyl cysteine is a precursor to glutathione, and it’s a great antioxidant itself,” says neuroscientist Bill Walsh in a recent Bulletproof Radio podcast episode [iTunes]. “It’s also good for shopping disorders, gambling disorders, [other] addictions, and severe OCD.”

Here are the four top reasons to add NAC to your daily supplement stack.

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NAC benefits

1. NAC stops cravings and addiction

NAC is a powerful way to get rid of cravings, and could potentially treat addiction.

Every addictive substance or behavior affects dopamine, one of your brain’s main feel-good chemicals and a driver of motivation. Specifically, addictive substances or behaviors light up dopamine reward pathways in your nucleus accumbens, a small part of your brain just below your temple.

When you’re addicted to something, it causes a dopamine imbalance and changes gene expression in your nucleus accumbens[2], which contributes to cravings[3].

NAC balances reward pathways, which reduces or eliminates cravings, and also decreases glutamate, a brain chemical that triggers reward-seeking behavior[4]. Research shows that taking NAC can help decrease cravings and prevent relapse in people addicted to:

  • Cocaine[5][6][7]. Addicts had decreased cravings after just three days of taking NAC.
  • Methamphetamine[8]
  • Nicotine (cigarettes)[9][10]. Smokers showed decreased cravings after four days on NAC, and nearly 50 percent of people who took NAC successfully quit smoking, versus 20 percent in the placebo group[11].
  •  Gambling[12][13]
  •  Binge eating, although this research was in rats and hasn’t yet been tried on people[14]

If you struggle with cravings or are trying to beat an addiction, taking NAC could help.

2. NAC for inflammation and aging

NAC is also a favorite supplement in the anti-aging community. It’s a precursor to glutathione, the most powerful antioxidant in the human body.

Taking NAC increases your glutathione levels by nearly 30 percent[15], which makes you much more resistant to inflammation and oxidative stress and slows down aging at a cellular level[16].  NAC works quickly, too: it measurably increases your antioxidant status in about a week[17], and your ability to fight off oxidative stress lasts long-term if you keep taking NAC[18].

It also protects your cells from environmental pollutants and toxins, including pesticides[19], heavy metals like lead[20],  and gasoline and diesel fumes[21][22].

NAC even restored lung function in soldiers exposed to mustard gas[23], and is a standard at hospitals for treating poisons that cause damage through extreme oxidative stress.

3. NAC eases depression and OCD

If you struggle with depression or obsessive-compulsive (OCD) behavior, NAC may help.

Several large studies have found that NAC relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety, with none of the side effects you get from antidepressants[24]. NAC also improved mood in depressed people who took it on top of their normal medication — again, with no side effects or drug interactions[25].

Related: Mood-Boosting Supplements for Depression, Anxiety & Stress 

NAC also decreases OCD behavior, possibly through the same mechanism by which it relieves addiction. It improved symptoms in people with severe OCD[26], and also decreased OCD in people who didn’t respond to drug treatment[27].

There’s no reason not to take NAC if you’re depressed or have OCD. It doesn’t interact with other medication and seems to help in many cases, even when drugs don’t.

4. NAC boosts fertility in men and women

NAC improves egg quality and increases pregnancy rates in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)[28], and also balances testosterone, one of the main drivers of infertility in women with PCOS[29]. NAC even reverses weight gain and prediabetes, two common symptoms of PCOS[30].

In men, NAC improves sperm quality[31] and, in some cases, even reverses infertility[32]. Researchers think this happens because NAC is so good at protecting you from oxidative damage. Increasing antioxidant status keeps sperm healthier.

If you and your partner are trying to conceive, try adding NAC to your routine.

Related: Follistatin: Grow Muscle, Fight Fat, and Boost Fertility 

NAC dosage and sourcing

With so many different benefits, NAC has something for everyone. It’s a great general supplement to protect your cells from stress and slow down aging, and is well worth adding to your morning supplement stack.

Most studies use a dose of between 1200-2400 mg NAC, taken in 600 mg doses throughout the day. You’ll absorb NAC best if you take it on an empty stomach, at least an hour away from eating.

Look for a supplement that’s either pure NAC or NAC with vitamin C (the two pair well together). You can expect to spend about $15 for a 30-day supply.

Read next: From Staying Young to Hacking Hangovers: A Guide to Glutathione

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