Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
If I asked you to name the most important immunity supplements to stock up on right now, I’m pretty sure you’d mention vitamin C – and with good reason.
But I’m pretty sure most of you would not mention something called N-Acetyl Cysteine.
Of course you wouldn’t. It’s not exactly well-known, it isn’t particularly sexy, and explaining what it does – and why it’s important – isn’t always easy to do in a soundbite.
But N-acetyl-cysteine – also known as NAC – might just be one of the most important supplements to have around during an immune system viral challenge, especially when that challenge targets the lungs.
Which is exactly what COVID-19 does.
Let me explain.
The Towers of Immune System Destruction
To understand how powerful and important NAC is, it’s necessary to be familiar with two of the most potent promoters of disease and aging, inflammation and oxidation.
Inflammation and oxidation accompany or promote just about every disease or condition you don’t want to have – including premature aging, heart disease, and a weakened immune system.
That’s why antioxidants and anti-inflammatories are so critical to mounting a strong immune defense and why foods and supplements that contain them are such an integral part of the 30-day challenge.
The “Special Forces” of Antioxidants – and the Hack that Gets you More of Them!
One of the most important defenses we have in our immune system is another antioxidant you may not have heard of – glutathione. And this is where NAC really shines.
See, glutathione is hands down, the body’s most powerful antioxidant. It is to ordinary antioxidants what special ops are to the army.
So why don’t we just load up on glutathione supplements?
Glad you asked.
Taking glutathione supplements is an iffy business because glutathione is fiendishly difficult to absorb orally. The best way – the only certain way to increase your stores of this superman of cellular defenders is to trick the body into making more of it!
And that’s exactly what NAC does. In fact, NAC is one of the best ways to increase the amount of “special forces” in your personal immune army.
But wait, there’s more
In addition, NAC seems to have a particular affinity for the upper respiratory tract. While we don’t have any evidence that NAC will have a direct effect on COVID-19 specifically, we have good reason to connect some dots and conclude that it might.
One study showed that N-acetyl cysteine modified and improved flu-like symptoms, especially in elderly high-risk individuals. (1) Treatment with NAC reduces the number of severe attacks for people with chronic bronchitis. (2) NAC also thins mucous and has been used to improve symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).(3)
NAC and the Cytokine Storm
One of the worst – and most serious – complications of respiratory diseases is called the cytokine storm, and yes, that’s a real thing*.
Cytokines are inflammatory chemicals produced by the body that are a natural part of an immune system response, but sometimes that response goes haywire. Then you get the Cytokine Storm. That’s what happens when the dams break, the floodgates open, and the body is literally swimming in a sea of inflammatory cytokines. To put it gently, it ain’t a good thing.
Meanwhile, oxidative damage plays a central role both in inflammation and in viral replication. It’s been proposed that antioxidants with anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects may be effective for treating the cytokine storm induced by a severe case of the flu. NAC has been shown to inhibit virus replication (H5N1) in the cells of the lung.(4)
For all these reasons, I consider NAC to be an essential component of a robust immune-supporting cocktail.(5) I recommend between 600 and 900 mg per day.
Stay tuned for other essential components of boosting immunity – including, but not limited, to other nutrients – in the coming days!)
*Put Cytokine Storm in the query box at
www. pubmed.gov, a search engine for the MEDLINE and NIH database of research citations on biomedical topics.)