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N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is no gamble!

N-acetylcysteine is a derivative of the amino acid L-cysteine and is used as a supplement because L-cysteine itself has too short a shelf-life and is poorly absorbed. The body uses L-cysteine as a component of proteins, and as a raw material for making the antioxidant glutathione.

NAC first gained popularity during the 1960s when it was used to help clear the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. In the 1970s it became a treatment for acetaminophen overdosage, and then for poisoning by various other substances. Around 1990 AIDS patients began using NAC to suppress viral activity.

Thousands of articles about NAC have been published in medical journals, some of them reporting on its effects in cardiovascular disease, neurological conditions, cancer, pulmonary diseases, and tissue rejection.

The latest addition to this trove of applications is a colorful one: NAC appears to be a treatment for gambling addictions. Researchers at the University of Minnesota gave 27 compulsive gamblers increasing doses of NAC over a period of 6 weeks. They found that at a dose of around 1500 mg/day sixteen of the gamblers felt a reduced urge to gamble.1,2

This work was a follow-up to experiments done in animals addicted to drugs, rather than to gambling. It is just the first of a series of planned clinical trials aimed at finding treatments for addictions of various kinds, including methamphetamine addictions.

Two other recent developments in the NAC world offer hope of new treatments for fatty liver disease and melanoma:

  • At Chulalongkorn University researchers have shown that when rats with non-alcoholic ‘steatohepatitis’ (fatty liver disease) are fed NAC for 6 weeks, their livers become less inflamed and lose the fatty deposits that characterize the disease.3
  • A cancer study at the University of Utah used mice with a genetic propensity to develop melanoma-type skin cancer after exposure to ultraviolet light. When these mice were treated prenatally with NAC — by putting NAC into the drinking water of their pregnant mothers — the development of melanoma in the offspring was retarded by 50%.4

How relevant is this melanoma study to adult humans? It’s hard to say. But when dealing with a disease as serious as melanoma, it doesn’t pay to quibble. NAC is an affordable supplement with lots of other benefits, and it should be a part of everyone’s daily regimen. So why not just think of it as a bit extra insurance against melanoma, since we’re taking it anyway?


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