Lung health has not always been a hot topic of conversation save if you an asthmatic or suffer from a chronic lung condition. Enter 2020 and the start of the Covid pandemic, this all changed and immunity and lung health was on the forefront of everyone’s mind, regardless of whether you had Covid or not.
During this pandemic, many different forms of treatment have been tried and tested to help fight Covid as well as keep your lungs healthy and one of these treatments is the use of NAC for lung health.
In this article, we will take a deeper look into the use of NAC and how it can keep our lungs healthy during this pandemic.
Table of Contents
What is NAC?
NAC stands for N-Acetylcysteine and is a supplemental form of cysteine, an amino acid that is required by our bodies.
Whilst you may be hearing about NAC for the first time, NAC has been around since the 1960s and was originally used in the emergency room for an acetaminophen overdose. Over time, the properties of NAC have been studied closely and it is now a commonly used supplement in lung health (1).
How does it work?
NAC has four main properties that can help enhance our lung health, these properties include it being a mucolytic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral agent as well being involved in the production of antioxidants.
The way NAC was originally to treat an overdose was in this property, NAC can dislodge thick mucus from the airways.
In the case of an overdose, it helps rid the body of toxins and in lung health, NAC can improve the airways and allow for better breathing (1).
Respiratory illnesses can cause an increase in inflammation during and after illness. This increased inflammation can result in irreversible damage to our lungs as well as delayed healing. NAC has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers and can prevent further damage to our cells (1).
Viruses such as Covid and Flu need a particular pathway to replicate, this pathway is called the NF-kB pathway.
Research has shown that NAC can inhibit this pathway and can potentially suppress the replication of the virus. This has been demonstrated on Covid, various influenza strains as well as respiratory viruses (1).
Due to stress and illness, our body can produce byproducts called free radicals, these substances can cause serious damage to our cells. In the case of respiratory illnesses such as flu, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and Covid, these free radicals cause damage to our lungs and severely reduce our lung health.
Although damage from free radicals can be serious, our body has important mechanisms in play to help protect it and that is where antioxidants come in.
Antioxidants are compounds that prevent and slow down the damage caused by free radicals. One of the most important antioxidants in our body is Glutathione. NAC is the precursor to Glutathione and can help replenish our levels of Glutathione, reducing damage to the cells (1).
The many uses of NAC in lung health
NAC has been used in multiple lung conditions such as bronchitis, COPD, flu, and more recently Covid.
In the use of Covid, it can be used as a potential prophylactic agent due to its immune-modulating properties and is being used in mild and critically ill Covid patients. In critically ill covid patients, it can help to reduce pneumonia and lymphopenia- common comorbidities of Covid. This in turn helps to reduce the mortality rate (1).
Before Covid came on to the scene, NAC was being used as adjunctive therapy in COPD, chronic bronchitis, and asthma.
The research is conflicting with some studies finding a reduced deterioration of the lung and other studies finding no difference. NAC can also help these patients to loosen the thick mucus and has been found to reduce hospitalization rates, however more research is needed (2) (3).
In research, NAC was used safely as an adjunctive therapy and wasn’t found to interact with commonly used medications to treat Covid, COPD, and asthma.
NAC can cause mild side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, and a skin rash. Although this may not be a side effect, it’s important to know that NAC is a sulfur-containing amino acid, and NAC in an oral form can have a strong rotten egg-like smell to it (4).
As a prophylactic treatment to Covid and to help keep our lungs healthy in general, a dose of 600 mg is recommended, this can be given in the form of a tablet.
For individuals who have a respiratory illness, a dose of 1200 mg twice a day is recommended.
In the case of breathing difficulty, in a nebulizer form can be used. In the critically ill, IV NAC is used (1).
Where can I get it?
Before you race off to the store to find can we actually get it or is it only available through a prescription?
This is quite a hot topic of conversation at the moment. Up until last year, NAC was available over the counter from many different health sites.
In May, the FDA requested information regarding the use of NAC and whether it was used as a dietary supplement before its use as a drug. This resulted in the FDA sending warning letters to health companies with many companies including Amazon pulling their products off the market.
Some companies are still selling NAC over the counter but the future of NAC and whether it will be available without a prescription in the future remains to be seen (5).
NAC is a well-known supplement in the medical world and has had success in helping to alleviate symptoms associated with lung conditions such as Covid.
Its side effects are mild and research on the use of in lung health is promising, so if you are looking to improve your lung health after Covid or just want to boost your lung health, NAC might be the answer.
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