NAC vs Glutathione - Which Supplement is Best?
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NAC vs Glutathione - Which Supplement is Best?

by Daniel Lynch 24 Jul 2023
In the world of wellness and health, antioxidants are key players. When we think of antioxidants, we often think of Vitamin C, A, and E. However, beyond these common antioxidants, there are two potent players that are gaining recognition in the health industry - Glutathione and N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC). Although they play crucial roles in our bodies, their functions are slightly different. Let's delve into the world of NAC and Glutathione; understanding what they do, their health benefits, and how they differ from each other. Understanding NAC and Glutathione: What's the Difference? An image of a hand with white capsulesAn image of a hand with white capsules Before we begin comparing these two antioxidants, it is important to understand what each of them is and how they function in our bodies. Glutathione: The Master Antioxidant Glutathione is an antioxidant present in our bodies that aids in repairing and protecting against cellular damage. It is considered by many health professionals as the master antioxidant because it enhances the benefits of other antioxidants and is found in every cell in our bodies. Our bodies naturally produce glutathione. However, factors like age, high blood sugar levels, excessive alcohol use, excessive exercise, exposure to toxins, and illness can decrease glutathione levels. As we age, the production of glutathione naturally reduces. By the time we reach our forties, the production has reduced by 30%, and by the age of 65, the production is 50% less. Glutathione consists of three molecules - cysteine, glycine, and glutamate. These molecules are precursors to glutathione as they are required for its production in the body. The higher the quantity of these precursors, the more glutathione the body can produce. There are also natural food sources of glutathione, including: Spinach Avocados Asparagus Okra However, the absorption of glutathione from food sources is relatively poor, and depending on cooking and storage methods, additional glutathione can be lost. N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC): The Glutathione Building Block N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is a derivative of the amino acid cysteine, one of the building blocks of glutathione. It is the only building block that contains sulfur, and without this building block, glutathione cannot be made. When you consume NAC in the form of food or supplements, your gut absorbs the NAC, transports it to your liver, and the liver converts it to cysteine. The cysteine is then converted to glutathione, which leaves the liver and is transported to your cells. Food sources are one way to get NAC naturally. Some food sources rich in NAC are: Lean protein such as chicken and fish Eggs Nuts Legumes Sulfur-rich foods are also good options to boost your NAC levels. The more sulfur you consume, the more NAC your body produces. Some food sources rich in sulfur are: Broccoli Kale Brussels sprouts Cauliflower The Health Benefits of NAC and Glutathione Both NAC and Glutathione have a range of health benefits. Here is a closer look at what these two potent antioxidants can do for your health. Benefits of NAC Promotes Lung Health NAC can do more than just act as a precursor to glutathione. A well-known benefit of NAC is its ability to break up mucus, a natural substance in our body that can increase and aggravate symptoms due to illness. NAC can help break down the sulfur bonds within the mucus, decreasing mucus levels and helping to alleviate symptoms. Supports Mental Health NAC also has a role in mental health. It is used to relieve symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, and depression by replenishing the amount of glutathione in the brain. Regulates Homocysteine Levels An image of a vile of blood with homocysteine test on itAn image of a vile of blood with homocysteine test on it Homocysteine is an amino acid used by folate, vitamin B6, and B12. However, high levels of homocysteine can increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks, and dementia. NAC can help reduce these levels of homocysteine. A study found that as the levels of homocysteine improved, the participants' blood pressure, a marker of heart health, also decreased. Benefits of Glutathione Powerful Antioxidant As one of the most potent antioxidants, glutathione plays a crucial role in our bodies. During cellular processes, our bodies create free radicals, unstable molecules that can cause damage to our cells. Glutathione helps reduce the free radicals in our bodies, reducing the risk of cellular damage. If levels of glutathione are low, the levels of free radicals increase. Therefore, maintaining your glutathione levels is important, and this is one of the reasons why it is a popular supplement. Strengthens the Immune System Our immune cells rely on glutathione to function properly. Killer T cells are immune cells that help neutralize infections. When individuals were given a glutathione supplement, the number of killer cells increased compared to the group given the placebo. Other studies have found that the number of white blood cells also increases. Aids in Magnesium Absorption This may be one of the lesser-known benefits of glutathione. There is evidence that your levels of magnesium depend on your levels of glutathione. In studies, individuals with low levels of glutathione also had low levels of magnesium. When glutathione was given to these individuals, not only did the glutathione level increase but the magnesium levels did as well. Enhances Antioxidants Glutathione has a relationship with antioxidants such as vitamin C and E and helps to regenerate these antioxidants. This relationship is synergistic as glutathione helps to restore vitamin C, and vitamin C helps to maintain glutathione. Detoxifies Heavy Metals Glutathione can bind to toxic metals such as mercury. Once bound, the glutathione carries it to the urine and it is then excreted. This benefit is extremely useful in current times with the increase of pollution, which could result in toxic metal contamination. Comparing NAC and Glutathione Supplements Both NAC and glutathione are available in supplemental forms, including tablets, sprays, liquids, powders, or through an IV. However, there can be side effects that vary depending on the individual taking them. Side Effects of NAC Although generally mild, NAC can cause side effects such as: Diarrhea Nausea Vomiting Skin rash Tiredness In rarer cases, more serious side effects such as persistent headaches, low blood pressure, and asthma attacks can occur. It's important to note that the FDA has determined that NAC supplements are excluded from the dietary supplements list, making their availability online and in health stores limited. NAC is still available but requires the approval of a healthcare provider. Side Effects of Glutathione An image of a woman sitting on her bed holding her stomachAn image of a woman sitting on her bed holding her stomach Like NAC, the side effects of glutathione can include: Cramps Bloating Skin Rash A more serious side effect can be asthma attacks, but this is a rare occurrence. Glutathione supplements are available from healthcare providers as well as online and in health stores. The quality and safety are not guaranteed, as the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements, but there is a higher availability of them compared to NAC. If you compare availability in the NAC vs glutathione choice, glutathione comes out on top. The best type of glutathione to get is Liposomal Glutathione. If you're going to choose one supplement, it's better to go with glutathione for a more direct antioxidant effect. The Role of Antioxidants in Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) Adrenal fatigue syndrome (AFS) is a group of symptoms that individuals may experience after periods of chronic stress. Your adrenal glands enable your body to respond to short-term stressors by releasing stress hormones. If the stress becomes chronic, your adrenal glands can become depleted. Your body supports your adrenal glands through the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) System, made up of six circuits of related organ systems. One such circuit is the Detoxification circuit, comprising the liver, gut, and immune system. This circuit is responsible for removing waste products, toxins, and other chemicals from your body. In the case of AFS, imbalances in this circuit can occur. This can result in the circuit being unable to remove these products from your body. Symptoms of an imbalance in the Detoxification circuit can include an increase in infections and sensitivities to food, metals, and chemicals. These reactions can cause your glutathione levels to become low and can cause additional symptoms of low glutathione. AFS Cautions While glutathione has a range of benefits, and there is a chance of glutathione becoming low during AFS, it might seem like a good idea to supplement with glutathione. However, before you rush to the store and stock up on some glutathione and NAC, it's important to consider the potential issues with taking these supplements. During AFS, your body can become very sensitive to products, including supplemental glutathione and NAC. Instead of easing symptoms, the supplements can result in further imbalances and more symptoms. Therefore, it's crucial to consult with your healthcare provider and develop a plan that will help provide you with relief while guiding you in terms of supplements. If you're suffering from adrenal fatigue, and you're very sensitive to stronger detoxification supplements like glutathione, it's important to start with a low dosage and slowly increase it. If you start to experience muscle aches, headaches, body tenderness, and extra fatigue after taking glutathione or NAC, reduce the dosage and see if the symptoms improve. The Final Word: NAC vs. Glutathione After reading this, you might be wondering, which is better when comparing NAC vs. glutathione? While both supplements are important for your body and offer multiple benefits, the choice between the two ultimately depends on your needs. NAC does convert to glutathione, which is likely why NAC has its benefits. However, both antioxidants play vital roles in your body. If you're looking to bypass the processes your body requires to convert NAC to glutathione, then glutathione wins in the NAC vs. glutathione choice.
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