N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is taking social media by storm, gaining popularity as a supposed miracle supplement against COVID-19. For instance, Steve Lucchino, owner of Elite Nutrition Omaha, a health supplement store, claimed that NAC “stops viral replication”, “breaks up mucus”, and is “great for your lungs”.
Let’s dissect the science behind NAC and determine whether it lives up to its newfound reputation.
NAC is the precursor to glutathione, a potent antioxidant inherently synthesized within our bodies. It plays a pivotal role in the body’s detoxification processes, particularly in the liver, where it neutralizes free radicals that are capable of damaging cellular components, including DNA.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves NAC as a prescription medication for conditions like acetaminophen overdose and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases due to its efficacy in dissolving mucus.
Although the body absorbs NAC better than glutathione as a dietary supplement, the acclaimed and overexaggerated health benefits surrounding NAC supplements extend far beyond the scientific consensus.
Several online platforms are abuzz with discussions promoting NAC as a cure-all solution for numerous conditions, from age-related issues to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, the scientific validation for such extensive claims is scant and laden with ambiguity.
Some enthusiasts may underscore the potential merits of NAC supplementation, but it’s crucial to maintain a balanced perspective. High intake of NAC may trigger gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea, vomiting, and flatulence. Furthermore, studies have highlighted that NAC, despite its antioxidant properties, may accelerate lung cancer progression in certain contexts.
Several contentions revolve around NAC’s purported ability to combat COVID-19. Social media platforms are rife with anecdotal accounts and purported studies claiming the efficacy of NAC against the virus.
Steve Lucchino, a notable athlete and health supplement shop owner, has been an ardent advocate, suggesting that NAC can not only halt the replication of the virus but also yield substantial respiratory benefits.
However, a thorough examination of the available evidence tells a different tale. The studies cited to substantiate such claims mainly derive their data from in vitro (Petri dish) studies, extrapolating the findings to humans without adequate clinical trials. Moreover, the scientists merely hypothesized (not showed) the capacity of NAC to inhibit COVID-19 based on results from other viruses:
“In addition, NAC has also been showed to inhibit replication of other viruses, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This means that, theoretically, NAC has the potential to inhibit SARS-Cov-2 as well because of its ability to negatively regulate NF-κB.”
NAC’s commendable mucolytic properties do offer symptomatic relief in COVID-19 cases where mucus production is prevalent. But the overarching question of NAC’s efficacy as a comprehensive treatment for COVID-19 is not confirmed.
Studies exploring NAC’s role in treating COVID-19 patients have rendered conflicting results, with some indicating potential benefits in reducing the need for mechanical ventilation and oxygen support, while others found no substantial impact on the survival rate, ICU admissions, or in-hospital mortality.
The FDA’s stance on NAC as a dietary supplement has also been misconstrued. While NAC was approved as a drug, which technically excludes it from being categorized as a dietary supplement, the FDA has expressed its intention to exercise enforcement discretion regarding the sale of NAC-containing products labeled as dietary supplements.
In conclusion, the essence of NAC’s efficacy in dissolving mucus is undeniable. However, positing NAC as a one-size-fits-all remedy against COVID-19 is premature. It’s paramount to approach NAC’s purported extensive benefits, especially against COVID-19 with caution. Those who are promoting NAC in this manner may have a hidden agenda in selling their NAC supplements.