For those with depression, it’s understandable that they would look for alternative routes for treatment. Especially when you look at some of the side effects that most SSRIs or antidepressants have. Today, we’re going to look at NAC for depression, explore what it is, and see if its a viable option.
What is N-acetylcysteine (NAC)?
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is the supplement of a naturally occurring amino acid called cysteine. Cysteine is an amino acid that is built within the body from the creation of two other amino acids, methionine and serine. Cysteine is in protein rich foods such as turkey, yogurt, and eggs. ¹
How Does NAC Work in the Brain and Body?
NAC and its naturally occurring counter part are important to the body and its health. It serves as an antioxidant helping with liver and kidney detoxing while also assisting with certain respiratory conditions. There are claims that it also boosts fertility, stabilizes high blood sugar, and plays a part in strengthening immunity. However, the most notable impact of NAC has is how the supplement interacts with the brain and improves its functionality. ²
Can You Use NAC for Depression?
NAC interacts with the brain directly in ways that may serve as a useful treatment for mental health conditions. Most notably, it reduces blood levels of molecules that bring about inflammation within the brain, such as interleukin-6. This inflammation is believed to be linked with a number of mental disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, as well as depression.
Many have used NAC and provide personal testimonies claiming to its ability to help treat depression. Still, there’s only so much research confirming this.
What Does the Research Say?
NAC has been looked into by scientists and researchers to put its touted benefits to the test. Many have observed using the supplement for various psychological conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression and the results of these efforts have been insightful:
- The Journal of Psychiatry published a study done by a group of researchers looking into whether NAC could serve as an effective treatment for psychiatry conditions. They found it as not only a useful treatment but also as a therapeutic option to harsher pharmaceutical antidepressants. NAC interacts with key pathways in the brain targeting deficiencies in such areas. They concluded that NAC is a “safe, tolerable and affordable” option that should be added for therapy regimens. ³
- Another study explored NAC as an add on treatment option that is taken alongside other antidepressants. They wanted to also see if the anti-inflammatory properties for NAC changes the response of participants in both therapies (NAC and antidepressants). NAC responses in patients were mixed but most saw a change in joint antidepressant and anti inflammatory applications. The research team stated that NAC administered jointly with antidepressants such as SSRIs may have multi beneficial response in the brain as well in the bodies of depressive patients. ⁴
- Additionally, the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne, Australia reported on the response of NAC administered in brain-altered lab rats. They found that the NAC had a two-pronged mechanism that alleviated the neuro deficiency in said lab mice. One way NAC help is that it reduced transport of glutamate which can build up in the brains of depressed creatures. NAC also reduces the excitement in the brain caused by glutamate which reduces depressive symptoms. ⁵
Other Potential Benefits of NAC
There are other benefits of NAC that help with different bodily functions outside of mental health concerns. It has been known to bolster immunity by helping build new immune system cells. ⁶ It also assists with respiratory complications like bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). ⁷ ⁸ NAC can also help within the brain by increasing dopamine and reducing tremors in those with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. ⁹
NAC Safety and Side Effects
Although beneficial for depression treatment, NAC has it own set of risks. NAC is not advisable for those who are pregnant as well as those struggling with a serious medical conditions. It’s not advisable for those on prescription medication to start taking NAC without consulting a physician first as it could negatively interact with other medications. While not everyone will experience side effects from NAC, you should keep an eye out for: ¹⁰
- Chest tightness
- Inflammation the tongue or inside of mouth
- Nausea and vomiting
- Runny nose
- Wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath
There are also more serious side effects that should be reported to a medical professional immediately:
- Chest tightness
NAC Dosage for Depression
Due to the fact that NAC is the supplement form of a naturally occurring amino acid, there isn’t one concrete way for taking it. Furthermore, NAC is applicable to many different conditions and disorders, all with their own dosing guidelines.
NAC is available in many different forms, including capsules, dilatable powders, intravenous fluids, and as an inhalant. However, it’s most commonly available in forms of 500-900 mg capsules. It is recommended not to exceed a dose of 1,800 mg per day for adults as it can cause many different complications. Most supplement companies offer NAC in 500, 600, or 900 mg options. We highly recommend don’t exceed two or three capsules of their serving size a day.
While everyone’s different, it commonly takes around an hour for NAC to fully be in your system and between 2 to 5 hours for effects to be felt. The most common effects reported with NAC are higher energy and improvement in lung functionality. As for long-term depression improvement, many users see improvement over the course of 12 to 24 weeks. ¹¹
NAC for Depression Reviews
NAC is available over the counter in a variety of different consumption methods. While it can be difficult to track down a safe, reputable company for vitamins and natural supplements we have provided a list of brands that you can trust for quality and efficacy.
Bluebonnet Nutrition is a natural ingredient and supplement company. They are one of the most recognizable brands for natural dietary supplements, found on store shelves nationwide. Based out in the United States, Blue Bonnet ensures their products are effective by working directly with growers and harvesters. They are USDA Organic, certain products are Kosher Certified and they have had many excellency awards for their natural line of dietary supplements and ingredients.
Bluebonnet provides an option for NAC directly in a capsule form at 500 mg a pill. The bottle is a one month supply of 30 capsules, but you can purchase different sizes for a two month or three month supply.
Life Extension is a natural vitamin company. Their products are made in the US and they ensure their efficacy through backing by clinical research and testing. For NAC, Life Extension offers the following products:
- NAC 600 mg capsules which is the amino acid in capsule form. Its in a 60 capsule bottle which, depending on dosage recommendations, can be a one month or 20 day supply as Life Extension recommends a dose of 1-3 capsules per day.
- Glutathione, Cysteine & C is a blend of three powerful antioxidant supplements which combined helps with detoxing the liver and kidneys and helps with mental health conditions. The mix comes in capsule form which includes 200 mg of Cysteine, 500 mg of Vitamin C and 50 mg of Glutathione. Each bottle serves as. a30 to 100 day supply based on the dose taken.
- Life Extension Mix™ Powder is a powdered mix of many different vitamins and supplements which includes NAC in it. Three scoops of the powder in still water daily. Serving sizes roughly measures out to 12 grams and includes 600 mg of NAC.
Pure Encapsulations provides organic, naturally sourced dietary supplements in a wide range of variations. They offer vitamins, minerals and supplements in powder and capsule forms . Avaible online, they can be shipped to your home. As for NAC, they offer:
- Their standard NAC supplement is a capsule form at 600 mg per dose. The 600 mg bottle is a one month supply of 30 capsules. However there is an option to purchase larger supply of the product from 90 days to 120 days. Their NAC supplement also comes in a 900 mg bottle for more stronger doses.
- A powdered form of NAC is provided by Pure Encapsulations. The powdered form includes the supplement and Glycine. A dose is one scoop of the powder solution in still water. One scoop equals 3.5 g which includes 1,800 mg of NAC and 1,800 mg of Glycine. The product is a one month supply.
- PureDefense with NAC is an immunity boosting formula which includes NAC as the primary ingredient. The product comes in the form of capsules, taken twice a day, one capsule in the morning and one at night. Each serving includes 450 mg of NAC as well as 20 mg of Vitamin C, 25 mcg of Vitamin D and 7.5 mgs of Zinc in order to strengthen the immune system. PureDefense with NAC comes in a one month supply of 20 capsules.
Depression can be a difficult and isolating condition that can seem like there’s no escape to. However with the right treatment approach and utilizing natural options such as NAC for depression, you can find a way out of depression and have ways to cope with the symptoms. While its important to follow your mental health professional advice, if NAC is an option, it might be the way to alleviate a long term and life altering mental health condition.
Still have questions about NAC for depression?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge on the topic to offer – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center: Integrative Medicine – Overview – N Acetylcysteine
² National Center for Biotechnical Information: Effect of N-acetylcysteine in the nucleus accumbens on neurotransmission
³ National Center for Biotechnical Information: N-acetylcysteine in psychiatry – Current therapeutic evidence
⁵ Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health: Potential new treatments for depression uncovered by research into Huntington’s
⁶ National Center for Biotechnical Information: S-linolenoyl glutathione intake extends life-span and stress resistance
⁷ European Respiratory Journal: Effect of oral N-acetylcysteine in chronic bronchitis
⁸ National Center for Biotechnical Information: Efficacy of Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) and/N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) Supplementation on Nutritional and Antioxidant Status of Male Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
⁹ National Center for Biotechnical Information: Review on Various Uses of N-Acetyl Cysteine
¹⁰ RXList: Acetylcysteine Solution
¹¹ Psychiatry Times: Exploring N-Acetylcysteine in Psychiatry