New Research on NAC and Parkinson’s Disease
I’ve written about N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) before, as it’s hard to overlook the numerous positive health benefits this powerful amino acid offers in support of cellular growth and overall wellness, but now new research has made me even more excited about its potential. That’s because as someone who had a very close family member develop Parkinson’s disease several years ago, I could not help but notice the exciting new research that suggests this nutritional supplement may actually benefit people with the disease. So while I am excited to first tell you about the new trial and the new findings, I want to be sure to cover all of the other amazing benefits that nutritional supplements derived from this natural molecule have to offer.
The New Research on NAC and Parkinson’s Disease
In a preliminary clinical trial designed specifically to test the effects of NAC on patients with Parkinson’s disease, researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia have reported exceptional results. Namely, that NAC — which has powerful antioxidant effects that drive cellular health, support detoxification, and boost overall wellness — was found to improve both the mental and physical abilities of patients with the disease.
As the study’s senior author Daniel Monti suggests, “N-acetylcysteine may have a unique physiological effect that alters the disease process and enables dopamine neurons to recover some function.” Parkinson’s disease is thought to be caused by a lack of dopamine, which serves as an important neurotransmitter in the brain, and affects the central nervous system. In effect, the new research suggests that NAC may be able to partially reverse or diminish this deficiency.
The specific study results were very encouraging and rigorously conducted, as patients with Parkinson’s were placed into two separate groups, but otherwise continued to follow their current treatment regimens. The first group received a combination of oral and intravenous NAC for three months, while the second — serving as the control group — did not receive any additional treatment beyond their standard regimen. Patients were evaluated at the beginning of the study, and then again at the conclusion of the three month period.
Amazingly, the patients who received NAC showed a four to nine percent improvement in their dopamine transporter binding, and scored roughly 13 percent higher in their Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) results. (The UPDRS is a survey that physicians administer to help determine the stage of Parkinson’s disease in a patient.) As first author Andrew Newberg summed it up, “We have not previously seen an intervention for Parkinson’s disease have this kind of effect on the brain.” In producing never-before-seen results, it is easy to understand why this new study is so uplifting.
What is NAC?
While NAC is just now starting to get attention for its possibilities in treating Parkinson’s disease, it has been recognized as a powerful nutritional supplement for some time. NAC is a sulfur-containing amino acid derived from a natural molecule, cysteine, which is abundant in most protein-rich foods. It acts as a stabilizer for the formation of protein structures, and likewise promotes vasodilation and increases glutathione production — an important antioxidant that is produced in the liver and that is important for detoxification and cellular health.
What Other Health Benefits does NAC Offer?
As I’ve already noted, NAC is able to offer much more than the potential to improve the mental and physical abilities of people with Parkinson’s disease. In fact, everyone may benefit from the numerous positive health effects of this nutritional supplement. As a critical antioxidant, we know that it supports cellular health, detoxification, and overall wellness throughout our bodies and our trillions of cells. However, there are a number of more specific benefits that we can point to for people taking NAC, including:
- Healthier Lung Tissues: NAC has been used to break down mucus in the respiratory system and supports the development and sustaining of healthy tissue throughout the lungs. More specifically, recent clinical trials have noted a reduction in the frequency of exacerbation among patients with stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Protecting the Kidneys: Among the beneficial properties it offers as an antioxidant, NAC may reduce or even prevent kidney damage. In fact, the FDA has already approved the use of NAC to treat liver damage caused by acetaminophen overdose. Specifically, evidence supports using NAC for preventing contrast-induced nephropathy (CIN), a defined impairment of renal function.
- Treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been found to be effective in treating OCD for some patients, and studies have suggested that NAC may actually amplify the impact of SSRIs, making them all the more effective.
- Fighting Cellular Infection: In mouse studies, NAC has been shown to help restore glutathione and cysteine levels in internal organs, while simultaneously boosting the cells natural defenses and ability to eliminate unwanted threats. The same process may occur in humans, although more research is needed.
- Better Immune System Function: Through its ability to maximize and boost health in our bodies at the cellular level, NAC has been shown to support a stronger immune system.
Should I Take NAC?
By now it is probably clear that I support the use of N-acetyl cysteine for nearly everyone — whether it be to diminish the negative impacts of Parkinson’s disease, or simply to promote healthier cellular function and better overall wellness. That being said, talk to your physician with specific questions related to NAC supplementation and whether or not it is right for you. We may still have much to learn about all of the amazing aspects of NAC, but based on what we know thus far, nearly everyone can benefit from this critical antioxidant.
Derek is a technical writer and editor with 10 years of experience in the health care field, having first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware. He is a contributing author on a number of textbooks in the medical field, ran a nuclear cardiology licensing course, and has written a variety of other pieces from online training courses to medical software manuals. Derek pursues his personal interest in health and wellness by playing multiple sports and running marathons. An insatiable traveler, he spent 16 months working and living abroad while traveling through South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.