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    N-acetyl-cysteine and other cysteine compounds protect against diabetic problems

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
    Thursday, December 02, 2004 7:32 am Email this article
    Being overweight increases the risk of diabetes more than any other disease. Compounds containing the amino acid cysteine, via their antioxidant activities, "improved glycemic control, delayed oxidation damage, downregulated inflammatory cytokines, and enhanced anticoagulant activity in diabetic mice" according to a new study from Taiwan.

    The five compounds tested were:

    NAC is available in health food stores. I don’t know about the other compounds.

    Reduced serum triglycerides and cholesterol in the liver

    These cysteine containing compounds also reduced triglyceride levels, and three of the compounds—n-acetyl cysteine (NAC), s-allyl cysteine (SAC), and s-propyl cysteine (SPC)—also reduced cholesterol levels in the liver.

    Restored glutathione levels

    All of the cysteine containing compounds restored glutathione levels in the diabetic rats.

    Glutathione is a powerful, naturally-occurring compound found in the body. Studies have found that older people with the highest levels of glutathione are also the healthiest.

    “[This study] supports the multiple roles of these [cysteine-containing] agents as potential protective agents for delaying diabetic deterioration,” the authors concluded.

    Great review paper about n-acetyl-cysteine

    One of the compounds used in the study is n-acetyl-cysteine (NAC). My interest in NAC started 5 years ago when I read about it’s use in Parkinson’s patients. My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1997 and has been taking NAC along with his Parkinson’s medicines since 1999.

    Below is a summary of some of the benefits of NAC from a couple of other papers with a slant towards, including an excellent review paper by Cotgreave (1997).

    N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) may help protect brain cells

    N-Acetyl-cysteine (NAC) may help protect brain cells according to a test tube study. Some researchers have hypothesized that NAC may be useful for people with Parkinson’s.

    Studies have found that the healthiest older people have the highest levels of a natural antioxidant called glutathione, and Parkinson’s is associated with decreased levels of glutathione.

    NAC very protective in test tube studies

    A test tube study found NAC to be very effective at protecting brain cells, specifically dopamine cells, which are the cells affected in people with Parkinson’s (Offen, 1996).

    They said:

    “NAC was markedly protective…” (Offen, 1996, p. 32)

    “NAC provided significant protection…” (Offen, 1996, p. 33)

    “NAC was highly protective…” (Offen, 1996, p. 36)

    “NAC [has shown some benefit] in preliminary clinical studies in other neurological disorders.” (Offen, 1996, p. 38)

    NAC is well tolerated

    “NAC is well tolerated and elicits few side effects,” according to the review by Cotgreave (1997, p. 213).

    NAC has been used since 1950?s

    NAC has been used since 1950?s.

    NAC is the treatment-of-choice for Tylenol poisoning

    NAC is the treatment-of-choice for Tylenol (acetamenophen) poisoning. An overdose of Tylenol (acetamenophen) depletes the liver of glutathione. NAC helps to restore glutathione levels.

    NAC reduces homocysteine

    NAC reduces levels of homocysteine (Cotgreave, 1997, p. 209). Homocysteine is an independent risk factor for heart disease.

    NAC increases natural antibiotic activity in lungs

    NAC increases the natural antibiotic activity of lung cells (Cotgreave, 1997, p. 214).

    NAC lowers release of inflammatory chemicals

    NAC lowers the release of inflammatory chemicals released in the metabolism of a type of fatty acid called arachidonic acid (Cotgreave, 1997, p. 215).

    NAC protects against cigarette smoke

    NAC protected animals against toxins found in cigarette smoke (Cotgreave, 1997, p. 216).

    NAC may protect against damage following a heart attack or stroke

    NAC helped to protect the hearts and brains of animal against damage following low levels of oxygen which is similar to what happens during a heart attack or stroke (Cotgreave, 1997, p. 216).

    NAC reduces muscle fatigue

    NAC was shown to reduce muscle fatigue during exercise (Cotgreave, 1997, p. 217).

    NAC reduces aging of cells

    NAC has been shown to reduce cellular aging (Cotgreave, 1997, p. 217).

    NAC protects against alcohol-induced stomach damage

    NAC has been shown to protect against alcohol-induced stomach damage in animals (Cotgreave, 1997, p. 217).

    NAC may lower blood pressure

    NAC may help to lower blood pressure by lowering angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) (Cotgreave, 1997, p. 218). This is similar to the blood pressure-lowering drugs known as ACE inhibitors.

    NAC may protect against cancer

    “NAC is an antimutagen and anticarcinogen,” (Cotgreave, 1997, p. 218). NAC reduced lung cancer and colon cancer in chemically-treated mice.

    NAC may protect immune suppression of UV radiation

    NAC is being studied to see if it is protective against ultraviolet radiation (Cotgreave, 1997, p. 219).

    NAC may enhance immune function

    NAC enhances immune function (Cotgreave, 1997, p. 219). A number of studies have shown it helpful in cases of AIDS.

    Doses used: 600 mg for healthy people, 1200 mg for diabetics, 4000-6000 mg for neurological conditions

    A study of healthy subjects used 600 mg per day (Urban et al, 1997).

    A study of diabetics used 1,200 mg per day (De Mattia et al, 1998).

    A study of people with neurological conditions used 4,000 to 6,000 mg per day (Hurd et al, 1996).

    Technical information from the current study

    Here is some additional techinical information from the current study for those of you who are interested.

    All of the cysteine compounds also reduced the loss of catalase and glutathione peroxidase activities in liver and kidney, and decreased glucose-induced lipid oxidation.

    The cysteine compounds also elevated the activity of 2 fibrinolytic factors, protein C—I assume the mean protein kinase C—and antithrombin III.

    The cysteine compounds also suppressed the overexpression of interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha.


    Hsu C, Yen H, Yin M, Tsai C, Hsieh C. Five cysteine-containing compounds delay diabetic deterioration in balb/ca mice. J Nutr. 2004 Dec, 134(12):3245-49.


    Department of Nutritional Science
    Chungshan Medical University
    Taichung City, Taiwan


    Cotgreave I. N-acetylcysteine: pharmacological considerations and experimental and clinical applications. Adv Pharmacol. 1997, 38:205-27.


    Ian A. Cotgreave
    Biochemical Toxicology Unit
    Karolinska Institute
    Stockholm, Sweden


    Offen D, Ziv I, Sternin H, Melamed E, Hochman A. Prevention of dopamine-induced cell death by thiol antioxidants: possible implications for treatment of parkinson’s disease. Exp Neurol. 1996 Sep, 141(1):32-39.


    D. Offen
    Department of Neurology
    Beilinson Medical Center
    Petah-Tiqva, Israel


    De Mattia G; Bravi MC; Laurenti O; Cassone-Faldetta M; Proietti A; De Luca O; Armiento A; Ferri C. Reduction of oxidative stress by oral N-acetyl-L-cysteine treatment decreases plasma soluble vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 concentrations in non-obese, non-dyslipidaemic, normotensive, patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes. Diabetologia, 1998 Nov, 41(11):1392-6.

    Hurd RW; Wilder BJ; Helveston WR; Uthman BM. Treatment of four siblings with progressive myoclonus epilepsy of the Unverricht-Lundborg type with N-acetylcysteine. Neurology, 1996 Nov, 47(5):1264-8.

    Urban T; Akerlund B; Jarstrand C; Lindeke B. Neutrophil function and glutathione-peroxidase (GSH-px) activity in healthy individuals after treatment with N-acetyl-L-cysteine. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy, 1997, 51(9):388-90.

    Articles on the same subject can be found here:


    On Jul 23, 2008 at 11:39 am Melissa wrote:

    . . . . .

    This was very interesting. I enjoyed reading it and agree that diet is very important. I am overweight myself and have been struggling to keep off the weight your blog made me realise how important it is to try to diet. I do worry about diabetes and the risk of other disease. It was a very interesting blog thanks. Keep up the good work!

    On Jul 23, 2008 at 1:07 pm Larry Hobbs wrote:

    . . . . .


    Thank you for your comments. I appreciate it.

    On Jul 23, 2008 at 1:47 pm Melissa wrote:

    . . . . .

    You are very welcome.

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