Last updated May 20, 2024 by Lisa Richards, CNC   Reviewed by Katie Stone, ND.

The Health Benefits of NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine)

Chicken and lentils are good sources of NAC, which can help to reduce your Candida symptoms

NAC is an amino acid and a powerful antioxidant. It is formed naturally in your body from cysteine, which you get from protein sources like yogurt or chicken, but you can also find it in supplement form.

This antioxidant is a dual-purpose supplement that makes it an excellent choice for your Candida diet. Firstly, NAC is very supportive for good liver health. And secondly, it disrupts the protective biofilms that are created by Candida albicans and other pathogens.

Let’s take a closer look at what NAC is, and how you can use it as part of your Candida treatment.

What Is NAC?

NAC stands for N-acetyl cysteine. Cysteine is a semi-essential amino acid, and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is a supplement form of cysteine. Cysteine is only a “semi-essential” amino acid because unlike essential amino acids, your body can produce cysteine from other amino acids. These are usually methionine and serine. Cysteine is only “essential” when your dietary intake of methionine and serine is too low for your body to make it (1).

Cysteine is present in many high-protein foods, such as chicken, beef, yogurt, cheese, eggs, sunflower seeds, and legumes.

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It’s important to get adequate cysteine in order to support good health. NAC is needed to restore your body’s most powerful antioxidant, glutathione. NAC also helps with chronic respiratory conditions, fertility and brain health. But it also appears that NAC may be a ‘secret weapon’ for fighting Candida – in not one way but two.

NAC Supports Your Liver

If you’re suffering from Candida or any other form of gut dysbiosis, your liver will be working hard. Pathogens like Candida albicans produce toxic substances as part of their metabolism, and it’s your liver’s job to remove them.

This is even more true when you start taking probiotics or antifungals. When the Candida yeast cells start dying, they release a whole lot more toxic waste. This is called a Herxheimer reaction (or Candida Die-off), and these harmful substances include ethanol, uric acid, and acetaldehyde.

Acetaldehyde, as a known neurotoxin, has a whole host of detrimental effects on your health and wellbeing. If your liver isn’t able to clear this toxin from your body, your whole body can be affected. It can impair your brain function and even kill brain cells. Your endocrine, immune and respiratory systems may also suffer; the membranes of your red blood cells may even lose their capacity to carry oxygen around the body.

NAC is an excellent way to support your liver during a Candida cleanse. It helps your body to process and expel the Candida metabolites that reach your liver. This can help to reduce your symptoms.

As a potent antioxidant, NAC is stocked in hospital emergency rooms to treat patients suffering from drug overdoses such as acetaminophen, or poisoning. (2)

In the case of drug overdoses, drugs such as acetaminophen can damage the liver by blocking the production of glutathione. Glutathione is arguably the most important antioxidant for your health – it’s produced by your body and found in every cell. This means it’s in a prime position to neutralize and eliminate free radicals. Glutathione also has the potential to improve and maintain overall health it’s also found in the cells of the immune system, whose job is to fight infection.

NAC is a precursor to glutathione and is needed to replenish your body’s stores of glutathione. If taken soon enough, NAC can work to heal a liver that has been damaged by drugs or poisoning.

This makes NAC a very beneficial addition to your anti-Candida program. During your detoxification, your liver may be suffering extra wear and tear due to the amount of toxins being moved out of your cells.

NAC Destroys Candida Biofilms

As well as diet and supplements, there’s one very important part of the Candida treatment that is often forgotten about: the breaking down of the protective fungal biofilm. (3)

Yeasts are all protected by a type of shield known as a biofilm. Biofilms make it even more difficult to kill off yeast, as antifungals often cannot get through it. One study showed that treating patients with anti-fungal drugs Nystatin and Diflucan may be successful until the Candida biofilm developed. The drugs were rendered much less effective and within 72 hours, the biofilm made the candida cells highly resistant. (4)

Although many herbal antifungals such as oregano oil, black walnut, garlic, and berberine can be helpful in treating Candida; these alone aren’t enough to kill it completely. It’s now believed that killing Candida effectively involves first breaking down the biofilm that’s protecting it. It’s like Candida’s personal bodyguard.

In order for antifungals to do their work properly, they must be paired with a biofilm disruptor. This should be something that can weaken and destroy the biofilm matrix. NAC appears to do exactly this.

As well as an antioxidant, NAC also has powerful antibacterial properties. It has been found effective in treating numerous bacterial infections, especially those of the upper respiratory tract. In fact, its efficacy in eradicating the biofilm in bronchitis-causing bacteria is what led researchers to test NAC on Candida patients.

They found that the efficacy of NAC on Candida biofilms depended on how it was used. Higher concentrations were more effective, and NAC was also found to be more effective when used with an antifungal. Researchers concluded that NAC was able to completely eradicate mature biofilms formed in most cases.

NAC was also found to inhibit C. albicans growth and prevent it from spreading, which is a vital step in biofilm formation. On top of this, NAC helped to change the texture of the formed biofilms, which may contribute to its inability to spread. This makes NAC a very important treatment option for getting rid of Candida. (5)

Other Benefits of NAC

NAC Supports Brain Health

Because NAC is needed to replenish glutathione and regulate brain glutamate levels, it’s been suggested that it can improve brain health.

Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that helps with a range of cognitive functions: learning, behavior, and memory. At the same time, glutathione helps reduce oxidative damage to brain cells caused by aging.

By improving levels of these chemicals, NAC may be a good option for those with brain and memory problems. It may even help to slow the loss of cognitive decline in those with Alzheimer’s disease. (6)

NAC Supports Cardiovascular Health

Many heart conditions are caused by oxidative stress that damages heart tissue. This is what can lead to strokes, heart attacks, and other serious conditions. It’s now thought that NAC may decrease the risk of heart disease risk by reducing oxidative damage to these delicate tissues. (7)

Another important benefit of NAC is that is increases nitric oxide production, which helps blood vessels dilate and therefore improves blood flow. By optimizing the flow of blood back to the heart, the risk of heart attacks is much lower. (8)

One small study showed that NAC combined with green tea can even reduce damage caused by oxidized LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), which is another risk factor for heart disease. (9)

NAC Boosts Immune Function

When fighting Candida, your immune system needs as much support as it can get. NAC and glutathione both have been found to improve immune health, particularly in people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Two important studies showed that when HIV patients were supplemented with NAC, they experienced a significant increase in their immune function. This included an almost complete restoration of their natural killer cells. (10, 11).

Another study showed that when you are suffering from the flu, NAC can prevent the virus from replicating properly. This can help to reduce the symptoms and duration of the infection. (12)

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More research has also shown that NAC has the potential to reduce the death of cells due to cancer and may even block cancer cell replication. (13,14)

NAC Recommended Dosage

Because your body naturally produces small amounts of cysteine, there is no specific dietary recommendation for NAC. However, in order for your body to do this, your diet should include adequate amounts of folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. These nutrients are present in foods such as beans, lentils, spinach, salmon and tuna.

Cysteine can be found in many protein-rich foods such as lean poultry and dairy, seeds and legumes. However, you might find that you benefit from a therapeutic dose in order to boost levels properly. This is particularly true if you are suffering from intestinal Candida overgrowth or a weakened immune system.

Glutathione itself is not very bioavailable in oral supplements. It tends to be degraded by enzymes in the intestines before your body can use it. The better solution is to take NAC, which is the precursor to glutathione and is much more bioavailable as a supplement. If your glutathione or cysteine levels are low, NAC can be a good solution to correct them. (15)

Side Effects of NAC

NAC has few reported side effects and is usually deemed safe for adults when taken as a prescription medication. However, taking large amounts within a short space of time may lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. (16)

Inhaling NAC may also cause unpleasant respiratory symptoms such as swelling in the mouth, runny nose, drowsiness and tightening in the chest.

Those with bleeding disorders or taking blood thinning medications are advised against taking NAC because it may affect blood clotting ability. (17)

The Bottom Line

NAC could be a highly beneficial part of your Candida cleanse program. It enables your liver to expel and remove toxins more efficiently.

It also has a protective effect on your liver, and may boost your liver health if it has been damaged in the past by toxins like acetaldehyde.

As a bonus, NAC could also benefit your heart health, brain functionality, and immune system as well. As a precursor to glutathione, it has a wide range of benefits across the various systems in your body. NAC supplements are effective and widely available.

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