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Benefits of Supplementing with NAC for Thyroid Health

Can taking NAC be beneficial for those struggling with Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism?
Benefits of Supplementing with NAC for Thyroid Health
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What is NAC?

NAC stands for N-acetyl cysteine, an antioxidant from an amino acid called l-cysteine, a building block of protein. NAC helps to stimulate the production of the powerful antioxidant glutathione and promotes detoxification by supporting the liver and scavenging and removing free radicals in the body.

NAC can help to prevent side effects caused by drug reactions, toxic chemical exposure, and the breakdown of mucus in the body. It gained popularity during the height of COVID because it also seems to have benefits in treating respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

NAC has many potential health benefits due to its antioxidant properties and ability to support glutathione production, a powerful antioxidant and detoxifying agent in the body. In this FAQ, we look at NAC, its benefits for thyroid health, the possible side effects, and how to incorporate NAC into your health supplement plan with hypothyroidism.

What is glutathione?

NAC’s role in helping produce glutathione makes it important to understand what glutathione does in the body. Glutathione is a naturally occurring antioxidant and detoxifying agent produced in the body. It is a tripeptide composed of three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid. Glutathione is found in virtually every cell in the body and plays a vital role in protecting cells from oxidative damage and toxins.

Glutathione neutralizes free radicals, the unstable molecules that can damage cells and contribute to aging and disease. It also plays a vital role in the body’s detoxification processes, helping to remove harmful toxins and heavy metals.

Various factors, including diet, lifestyle, environmental toxins, and chronic medical conditions can influence glutathione levels in the body. 

What are the health benefits of NAC?

Because NAC helps to replenish our glutathione store – and given glutathione’s role as the body’s most potent antioxidant – NAC is beneficial for a variety of reasons:

1) May help improve longevity

As an antioxidant, NAC contains compounds that help to neutralize free radicals in the body. These free radicals, when left otherwise, wreak havoc on our bodies by damaging tissues and cells, which in turn cause our biological age to decrease.

2) Helps to prevent liver damage

In treating liver disorders, NAC is one of the more frequently used antioxidant drugs. When treating liver cancer specifically, NAC can help to preserve normal cells against the toxicity of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Any additional DNA damage can be blocked entirely by incorporating treatment with NAC.

3) Supports mental conditions and brain health

For those with depression, NAC can be a helpful tool to minimize symptoms. A summary of five separate studies evaluated the use of NAC in over 500 patients with bipolar disorder and/or depressive symptoms. Some participants were given a placebo, and others were given NAC supplementation. Those who received NAC showed improved depressive symptoms versus those who received a placebo. In a separate study, NAC also showed promise in helping to treat moderate to severe OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).

4) Support respiratory health

The respiratory benefits of NAC rose to fame during the pandemic. But experts knew that NAC could support respiratory conditions. One specific condition that benefits from NAC is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a leading cause of both mortality and morbidity worldwide. COPD creates persistent airflow limitation, mucus buildup, oxidative stress, and inflammation in the airway. The use of a high dose of NAC (300 – 1200 mg per day, orally) has been found to be beneficial for conditions such as COPD and cystic fibrosis. In the case of a respiratory virus such as SARS-Cov and MERS-Cov, NAC has the potential to inhibit the virus. NAC also helps loosen thick mucus in the lungs, boost the immune system, suppress viral replication, and reduce inflammation.

5) Support healthy blood sugar levels

NAC can benefit people with elevated blood sugar levels and those with insulin resistance. NAC can modulate specific signaling pathways in both insulin target cells and beta cells, which helps to reduce the likelihood or severity of developing insulin resistance.

Some other potential benefits of NAC include the following:

  • Boosting cognitive function: NAC may help to improve cognitive function and protect against age-related cognitive decline. It has also been studied as a potential treatment for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.
  • Reducing inflammation: NAC has anti-inflammatory properties and may help to reduce inflammation in the body. Reducing inflammation benefits individuals with chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis or autoimmune disorders.
  • Supporting cardiovascular health: NAC may help to improve cardiovascular health by reducing oxidative stress, lowering blood pressure, and improving endothelial function.

While NAC has been shown to have many potential health benefits, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, as it may interact with your medications or have side effects in some individuals.

Is NAC beneficial for thyroid health?

Can NAC help your thyroid health or related symptoms? The short answer is yes!

Those with active hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s, with insufficient production of thyroid hormones, tend to have low glutathione levels. In fact, a study from 2012 found that Hashimoto’s’ patients had 62% lower levels of glutathione compared to a control group. Given the significant level of glutathione deficiency, experts theorize that NAC may positively impact thyroid health by reducing oxidative stress, supporting liver health, helping resolve mental conditions such as depression, and stabilizing fluctuating blood sugar levels.

In addition, many of the conditions that NAC helps support (PCOS, bronchitis, colitis, asthma, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s) are all rooted in chronic inflammation. Inflammation is common in Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism. With NAC and glutathione providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support, it’s safe to conclude that it benefits those with thyroid disease.

Are there food sources of NAC?

NAC is considered a semi-essential nutrient, only essential if your body is not producing enough. Our bodies produce NAC from other amino acids, namely methionine, and serine, that we intake from various foods.

While N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is not found in significant amounts in food, some foods contain the amino acid cysteine, a precursor to NAC. Here are some food sources of cysteine:

  • Poultry: Chicken and turkey are good sources of cysteine. Chicken breast, in particular, is a rich source of cysteine.
  • Soy products: Soybeans, tofu, and other soy products are good sources of cysteine.
  • Dairy products: Cheese, yogurt, and milk are all sources of cysteine.
  • Oats: Oats are an excellent cysteine source and rich in nutrients like fiber and antioxidants.
  • Eggs: Eggs are a good source of cysteine, especially yolks.
  • Seeds and legumes

It’s important to note that while these foods contain cysteine, they may not necessarily increase your NAC levels to the extent needed to improve your symptoms. If your glutathione levels are low, NAC supplementation may be recommended.

How can you supplement with NAC?

NAC can be taken in several forms, including capsules, tablets, powders, and liquids. The recommended dosage and form of NAC can vary depending on your intended use. Here are a few common ways people supplement with NAC:

  • Capsules or tablets: NAC is often sold in capsule or tablet form. Typical dosages range from 600 to 1200 mg per day. It is usually recommended to take NAC with food to avoid stomach upset.
  • Powders: NAC powders can be added to drinks or food for easy consumption. Dosages typically range from 500 to 1000 mg per day.
  • Liquids: NAC liquids can be taken on their own or added to beverages. Dosages typically range from 500 to 1000 mg per day.

As the optimal dosage and form vary, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, including NAC. In addition, NAC may interact with certain medications or have potential side effects, so discuss any possible risks with your healthcare provider.

What are the side effects of NAC?

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is generally considered safe when taken in recommended doses, but some people may experience side effects. Here are some possible adverse effects of taking NAC:

  • Digestive issues: NAC may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach discomfort in some people.
  • Headache: Some people may experience headaches when taking NAC.
  • Allergic reactions: NAC can cause allergic reactions in some people, especially if they are allergic to sulfur-containing compounds.
  • Respiratory issues: NAC may cause respiratory problems in people with asthma or other lung conditions.
  • Interactions with medications: NAC may interact with certain medications, including nitroglycerin, activated charcoal, and drugs that affect blood clotting.

It is important to discuss potential risks or interactions with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, including NAC. If you experience any severe or concerning side effects while taking NAC, stop taking it and seek medical attention immediately.

A note from Paloma

In someone with hypothyroidism, maintaining energy and focus starts with optimal thyroid function. An affordable and convenient virtual consultation with one of Paloma’s thyroid-savvy doctors can put you on the right track to effective diagnosis and optimal treatment of your hypothyroidism.

Are you interested in whether or not supplementing with NAC would benefit you and your health as a thyroid patient? It’s best to ask your healthcare professional to test your serum glutathione levels first. Testing can help determine whether your levels are low, and NAC could be beneficial. As with any supplement, you’ll get the best results when you “test, don’t guess!”


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Neeyaz Zolfaghari

Holistic Nutritionist and Nourishment Coach

Neeyaz Zolfaghari is the founder of Unspoken Nutrition, a nutrition and lifestyle brand dedicated to helping others find and create harmony with their daily habits to support their wellbeing and ‘health’. Her journey began over a decade ago, when she was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases. Knowing what she learned from her upbringing, Neeyaz turned to nutrition as the first pillar of her healing. As her body began to heal on a physical level, she began to learn how our minds, bodies and souls are all innately connected.  

Now as an Integrative Nutritionist and Patient Advocate, Neeyaz offers the people she works with the support, guidance, and tools they need in order to live a fulfilled life. While Neeyaz initially endeavored to make a difference at the individual level, her vision grew to embrace broader community impacts. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Health, serving as a testament to her unwavering commitment to instigate change on a grander scale.

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