N-acetyl cysteine, or NAC, is both a prescription medication and a supplement. Most commonly, doctors might prescribe this drug as an inhalant to treat mucus buildup. NAC may also provide antioxidants that help to combat aging factors, such as hair loss. The studies regarding the effectiveness of n-acetyl cysteine as a weapon against aging are less conclusive than its medicinal benefits. You should not take a supplement without talking to your doctor first.
NAC has a dual role. It can be a nutritional supplement that helps to improve overall health, or, at a different dosage, NAC can be a prescribed medication for some illnesses. Primarily, it is an agent that thins mucus. Other uses include treatment of acetaminophen overdose, oxidative stress and as an antioxidant. There is evidence it may work to combat some mental illnesses, such as trichotillomania, the compulsive need to pull out your hair. According to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, there is no food source for NAC. You must take a supplement in order to benefit from it. However, n-acetyle cysteine is a modified form of a naturally occurring amino acid, cysteine. The human liver can manufacture this non-essential amino acid from foods such as bean, meats and seafood.
NAC stimulates production of a group of amino acids that includes cysteine and glutathione. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center reports that it also works as a scavenger to remove free radicals from the body. Free radicals are one component in aging. The website World Health reports that supplemental NAC may help to promote hair growth and prevent loss. The site offers no clinical data to support this claim.
Every person experiences hair loss on a daily basis. For some, it's a matter of a few hairs left in a comb. According to Mayo Clinic.com, on average, a person might lose up to 100 hairs a day. Hair loss can also occur due to environmental factors, heredity, illness or medications. Alopecia, the medical term for hair loss, may be permanent or temporary. Pattern baldness tends to run in families and affects the growth cycle of hair and some medical conditions damage the follicles responsible for hair growth. Lifestyle can also play a role in temporary hair loss. Individuals who do not have enough iron and protein in their diets may find their hair thinning.
It is unclear whether supplemental NAC will improve the quality of hair and the growth cycle. Clinical data does not prove or disprove this theory. There are other benefits to taking NAC. Sloan-Kettering discusses the effectiveness of n-acetyl cysteine as an antioxidant. The World Health website reports it may aid in the prevention of heart disease, boost the immune system, improve metabolism and promote hair growth. If prescribed by a physician, this medication can help to thin mucus and open up breathing passages.
Taking a nutritional supplement may affect the use of prescription medication. You should not take any dietary supplement, including NAC, unless instructed by your doctor. Side effects of NAC include intestinal problems such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting; eye irritation and skin rash. If you are being treated for hypertension or asthma, do not take supplemental NAC without consulting a physician. N-acetyl cysteine may react with nitroglycerin. If taking nitroglycerin for angina or heart disease, do not take supplemental NAC.