Research is showing a N-acetylcysteine amide supplement can help in the fight against COVID-19, but more research is necessary to show the extent
Concern over the damage that COVID-19 can cause — which not only includes requiring intubation to breathe and potential death but also its long-lasting effects that have been referred to as “long hauler” effects — is causing them to look for ways to prevent or treat this virus. One that is gaining attention is an N-acetylcysteine amide supplement.
What is the N-acetylcysteine amide supplement?
N-acetylcysteine amide (NACA) is a precursor of L-cysteine, a non-essential amino acid that is found naturally in the human body and a building block for protein synthesis. Prior to the appearance of COVID, NACA was recognized for the role that this antioxidant has played in preventing or treating a variety of diseases.
In a review published by Cell Journal in Spring of 2017, researchers credited N-acetylcysteine with its positive effects on chronic bronchitis, asthma, ulcerative colitis, and liver cancer. They further noted that it has been shown to help with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s while also improving pregnancy rates in the 40% of women with polycystic ovary syndrome who are resistant to clomiphene citrate, a drug commonly used to treat this disease.
Just four years after this review was released, many additional studies are now investigating whether N-acetylcysteine can help in the fight against COVID-19. Several are reporting promising results.
N-acetylcysteine and COVID-19: The research
On June 29, 2021, the journal Infectious Diseases (London) published a cohort study involving 82 patients with COVID-19 pneumonia. Half received oral N-acetylcysteine and the other half served as the control. Significantly fewer members of the intervention group had their pneumonia progress to severe respiratory failure, thus, they also had lower mortality rates.
Another piece of research involved a 64-year-old man who, after being treated for esophageal cancer, contracted the coronavirus. Doctors tried several different forms of treatment ranging from antibiotics to nebulization and nutritional support but the patient kept getting worse.
Thirteen days after being admitted to the hospital, the patient was placed on a ventilator, causing his blood carbon dioxide levels to increase. At this point, he was treated with an inhalation solution that included N-acetylcysteine. The patient’s carbon dioxide levels started to decrease and, after a 46-day hospital stay, was well enough to be released.
How N-acetylcysteine may help combat the coronavirus
A 2020 evidential review published in Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management provides some insight into how N-acetylcysteine may help prevent or treat COVID-19. Among the potential explanations include its ability to boost immune function, making the human body more resilient against the virus. This was evidenced by N-acetylcysteine reducing the frequency, severity, and duration of another virus: the influenza virus.
Another way that N-acetylcysteine may help according to the authors is that it suppresses viral replication, thereby reducing its ability to grow. It works by inhibiting NF-κB activation. But there’s also a question as to whether N-acetylcysteine can inhibit the growth of the SARS-Cov-2 virus directly by inhibiting the main protease that it requires for replication.
Additional positive effects offered by this review include:
- Reducing the inflammation associated with this virus by decreasing the production of IL-6, IL-8, CXCL10, and CCL5 — all pro-inflammatory cytokines
- Decreasing the risk of pneumonia, a secondary condition developed by roughly 37% of COVID patients who are placed on ventilators
- Improving lung function, thereby reducing the “cytokine storm” which has been associated with a higher mortality rate
Is N-acetylcysteine the answer to COVID-19?
In fairness, not every piece of research makes such a promising connection between N-acetylcysteine and the prevention or treatment of COVID.
For example, a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study involving 135 patients with severe cases of the coronavirus noted that the end prognosis was relatively the same for participants taking N-acetylcysteine as those with no exposure to this antioxidant. This conclusion was reached after 14 people in the N-acetylcysteine group wound up needing ventilation after contracting COVID compared to 16 patients in the non-N-acetylcysteine group.
Until more research can be conducted, it will remain somewhat unclear whether a N-acetylcysteine amide supplement can help in the fight against COVID-19 and, if it can, to what extent and under what circumstances.