N-acetyl L-cysteine is an amino acid derivative that is also known as N-acetylcysteine, or just acetylcysteine. It is derived from the amino acid L-cysteine, which has the chemical formula C3H7NO2S. Cysteine is converted to N-acetyl L-cysteine by attaching an acetyl group (COCH3) to cysteine’s nitrogen atom. This process gives N-acetyl L-cysteine its chemical formula of (C5H9NO3S).
N-acetyl L-cysteine has many biological applications. Its primary uses as a dietary supplement include support for the liver and antioxidant effects. N-acetyl L-cysteine is also useful in cough medicine since it dissolves disulfide bonds effectively. This action liquefies mucus in the bronchial tubes, allowing it to be coughed up more easily. N-acetyl L-cysteine products for keeping airways clear are also available as sprays for the mouth and nose.
N-acetyl L-cysteine can serve as a method of supplying the body with a form of L-cysteine that is more easily absorbed than free L-cysteine. This type of N-acetyl L-cysteine supplement is known as a prodrug for L-cysteine, meaning that it is biologically inactive until activated by normal metabolism. This process produces free L-cysteine, which is the precursor for many important chemicals in the body, including glutathione, cysteine and glutamate.
The support of liver function is one of the most common uses for oral N-acetyl L-cysteine supplements. Additional uses include support for the heart, kidneys and respiration system.
Oral N-acetyl L-cysteine supplements may help to maintain healthy breathing, especially for people with airways prone to swelling. This regimen may require up to six months to experience the best results.
N-acetyl L-cysteine may support liver function by helping to dispose of various toxins safely. This application is especially common for acetaminophen overdoses.
N-acetyl L-cysteine may help to manage chest discomfort. This use is typically combined with nitroglycerin.
N-acetyl L-cysteine may help to support kidney function after drinking the dyes needed for kidney X-rays.
Breathing difficulties are often an indication that you should take N-acetyl L-cysteine, usually when they are caused by swollen air passages. Chest discomfort is also a sign that you may benefit from N-acetyl L-cysteine, especially when accompanied by a high level of homocysteine in the blood.
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