Getting a Knack for NAC
August 5, 2020
N-acetyl-cysteine, N-acetylcysteine, N-acetyl cysteine, and N-acetyl-L-cysteine are all designations for the same compound, which is abbreviated as NAC. NAC is a precursor to the amino acid cysteine, which ultimately plays two key metabolic roles. Through its metabolic contribution to glutathione production, cysteine participates in the general antioxidant activities of the body. Through its role as a modulator of the glutamatergic system, cysteine influences the reward-reinforcement pathway. Because of these functions, NAC may exert a therapeutic effect on psychiatric disorders allegedly related to oxidative stress (e.g., schizophrenia, bipolar disorder) as well as psychiatric syndromes characterized by impulsive/compulsive symptoms (e.g., trichotillomania, pathological nail biting, gambling, substance misuse). While the dosages, pharmacological strategies (monotherapy versus augmentation), and long-term risks are not fully evident, NAC appears to be a promising, relatively low-risk intervention. If so, NAC might be an ideal treatment strategy for a variety of psychiatric conditions in both psychiatric and primary care settings.
Keywords: Antioxidants, NAC, N-acetylcysteine, N-acetyl-cysteine, N-acetyl-L-cysteine
This ongoing column is dedicated to the challenging clinical interface between psychiatry and primary care—two fields that are inexorably linked.