It is in this context that the supplement N-Acetyl Cysteine, or NAC, found itself in the FDA’s crosshairs despite being a common dietary supplement on the market for almost 60 years. NAC is a supplement form of cysteine, which can be found in many high-protein foods such as cheese, eggs, yogurt, chicken, turkey, legumes and sunflower seeds.
Many people turn to NAC for its critical role in making and replenishing one of the body’s most important antioxidants, glutathione, which is essential for immune health and fighting cellular damage. It has been linked to longevity and can benefit ailments caused by oxidative stress such as heart disease, mental health conditions and infertility.
In 2020, the FDA suddenly decided that it should be excluded from the definition of a dietary supplement on the grounds that it had been approved as a new drug back in 1963. In response, Amazon and other retailers pulled NAC from their shelves.
All of this came at a time when NAC was getting attention from researchers for its potential to alleviate the pandemic. One literature analysis showed a potential association between glutathione deficiency and COVID-19 severity, prompting the author to reach the conclusion that NAC could help to prevent and treat the disease thanks to the crucial role it plays in glutathione production.
In addition, previous research had demonstrated NAC’s ability to inhibit the expression of the proinflammatory cytokines that can be found in cells infected with the H5N1 influenza virus. Because these cytokines also play a major role in the severity of COVID-19, many believed NAC could also prove helpful with this aspect of the disease. NAC also addresses excessive oxidative stress and blood clots, two other hallmarks of severe COVID-19.
The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology journal noted: “Based on a broad range of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory mechanisms … the oral administration of NAC is likely to attenuate the risk of developing COVID-19, as it was previously demonstrated for influenza and influenza-like illnesses."
"Moreover, high-dose intravenous NAC may be expected to play an adjuvant role in the treatment of severe COVID-19 cases and in the control of its lethal complications … including pulmonary and cardiovascular adverse events.”
Another study comparing patients hospitalized with moderate to severe COVID-19 pneumonia found a significantly lower mortality rate and a lower rate of severe respiratory failure among patients in a group who received 600 milligrams of NAC twice a day for 14 days versus those who only received standard care.
It's no wonder that pharmaceutical companies felt their profits were threatened by the supplement. However, there are some signs that clearer heads are prevailing, with draft guidance released by the FDA last month suggesting they may not enforce their policy that NAC can’t be marketed as a dietary supplement. Although it remains illegal to do so from a technical standpoint for now, it could be setting the stage for an official reverse of position. Moreover, they admitted that although their full safety review of the supplement is ongoing, their initial review did not identify any safety concerns related to the use of NAC.
It's probably not a coincidence that this reversal comes only after much of the population has already given in to vaccine pressures and the predominant strain is milder than previous iterations. However, it’s still a potential victory for those who wish to have access to this safe and effective natural solution.
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