Not getting sufficient sulfur in your diet? You could be missing this nutrient powerhouse.
Sulfur is an important part of a health-promoting diet, which is why I stress cabbage and onion family vegetables. The body needs sulfur to manufacture glutathione, which is the master antioxidant in our cells. The body also needs sulfur to manufacture L-cysteine, an amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks for structural and functional proteins and peptides (very short amino acid sequences) that are essential to human health. There are 20 essential amino acids and 10 conditionally essential amino acids. Essential means that we cannot make that particular amino acid. Conditionally essential means that if we have all the ingredients needed to make that amino acid, we can. L-Cysteine is a conditional amino acid, meaning that our body can make L-cysteine if there is enough sulfur in the diet to do so.
Many people do not have sufficient sulfur in their diet, which means they cannot manufacture enough L-cysteine. Our body uses L-Cysteine in many essential functions, and a deficiency may compromise cellular health. The addition of N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) often provides a wellness boost for those with complex chronic disease as well as those who simply want to enjoy healthier aging. It is generally a very well-tolerated way to improve cellular health.
NAC is often used as an add-on supplement to support detoxification, neurological function, and immune function.1-3 NAC has been used as an adjuvant to the treatment of many chronic neurological diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, peripheral neuropathies, diabetes neuropathies, Alzheimer’s, tardive dyskinesia, and stroke.1,2 It has also been used as an add-on therapy for people with depression, anxiety, bipolar, attention deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia.4,5 In addition, NAC has been used as an adjuvant for a wide variety of chronic health issues that are not related to the brain, including polycystic ovary disease, male infertility, sleep apnea, acquired immune deficiency, influenza, inflammatory bowel disease, and as a chelator for metal detoxification.2 NAC has been used as an add-on therapy when treating heavy metal (mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium) exposure.6 It is also used as an add-on therapy to reduce the risk of pulmonary fibrosis in patients who have persisting respiratory symptoms after COVID.7
My professors taught us to be suspicious of compounds used for many disease states. However, the same professors used FDA-approved drugs for off-label indications when the science supported that use. NAC does have many disease states that have published favorable outcomes. When a natural compound has been found to be helpful for many conditions, that compound is likely providing a molecule key to healthy human physiology.
In my clinical experience, many patients benefit from the addition of NAC to their supplement regimen. I stress the need to support cellular health, brain health, immune health, and detoxification by eating more cabbage and onion family vegetables. I also use NAC as an add-on wellness plan for my patients with neurological, psychiatric, or autoimmune disease.
Bavarsad Shahripour R, Harrigan MR, Alexandrov AV. N-acetylcysteine (NAC) in neurological disorders: mechanisms of action and therapeutic opportunities. Brain Behav. 2014;4(2):108-122.
Schwalfenberg GK. N-Acetylcysteine: A Review of Clinical Usefulness (an Old Drug with New Tricks). J Nutr Metab. 2021;2021:9949453.
Zafarullah M, Li WQ, Sylvester J, Ahmad M. Molecular mechanisms of N-acetylcysteine actions. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2003;60(1):6-20.
Deepmala, Slattery J, Kumar N, et al. Clinical trials of N-acetylcysteine in psychiatry and neurology: A systematic review. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2015;55:294-321.
Minarini A, Ferrari S, Galletti M, et al. N-acetylcysteine in the treatment of psychiatric disorders: current status and future prospects. Expert Opin Drug Metab Toxicol. 2017;13(3):279-292.
Blanusa M, Varnai VM, Piasek M, Kostial K. Chelators as antidotes of metal toxicity: therapeutic and experimental aspects. Curr Med Chem. 2005;12(23):2771-2794.
De Flora S, Balansky R, La Maestra S. Rationale for the use of N-acetylcysteine in both prevention and adjuvant therapy of COVID-19. FASEB J. 2020;34(10):13185-13193.