N-acetyl L-cysteine is an amino acid derivative that is also known as N-acetylcysteine, or just acetylcysteine. It is derived from the amino acid L-cysteine, which has the chemical formula C3H7NO2S. Cysteine is converted to N-acetyl L-cysteine by attaching an acetyl group (COCH3) to cysteine’s nitrogen atom. This process gives N-acetyl L-cysteine its chemical formula of (C5H9NO3S).
N-acetyl L-cysteine has many biological applications. Its primary uses as a dietary supplement include support for the liver and antioxidant effects. N-acetyl L-cysteine is also useful in cough medicine since it dissolves disulfide bonds effectively. This action liquefies mucus in the bronchial tubes, allowing it to be coughed up more easily. N-acetyl L-cysteine products for keeping airways clear are also available as sprays for the mouth and nose.
N-acetyl L-cysteine can serve as a method of supplying the body with a form of L-cysteine that is more easily absorbed than free L-cysteine. This type of N-acetyl L-cysteine supplement is known as a prodrug for L-cysteine, meaning that it is biologically inactive until activated by normal metabolism. This process produces free L-cysteine, which is the precursor for many important chemicals in the body, including glutathione, cysteine and glutamate.
Uses of N-Acetyl L-Cysteine
The support of liver function is one of the most common uses for oral N-acetyl L-cysteine supplements. Additional uses include support for the heart, kidneys and respiration system.
Oral N-acetyl L-cysteine supplements may help to maintain healthy breathing, especially for people with airways prone to swelling. This regimen may require up to six months to experience the best results.
Liver health support
N-acetyl L-cysteine may support liver function by helping to dispose of various toxins safely. This application is especially common for acetaminophen overdoses.
Heart health support
N-acetyl L-cysteine may help to manage chest discomfort. This use is typically combined with nitroglycerin.
Kidney health support
N-acetyl L-cysteine may help to support kidney function after drinking the dyes needed for kidney X-rays.
Signs You May Need N-Acetyl L-Cysteine
Breathing difficulties are often an indication that you should take N-acetyl L-cysteine, usually when they are caused by swollen air passages. Chest discomfort is also a sign that you may benefit from N-acetyl L-cysteine, especially when accompanied by a high level of homocysteine in the blood.
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