NAC and Depression – Novel Oxidative Stress Theory

NAC, n-acetylcysteine mental health benefits

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) may help with depression studies say. NAC helps your body produce natural (“endogenous”) glutathione.

Glutathione is an essential antioxidant in your brain.

Newer research on depression has shown that perhaps there is another theory behind why some people get depressed and others don’t.

A new concept of an immune-inflammatory condition from oxidative stress is being linked to depression.

The Glutathione Connection

In the Journal of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, researchers scanned the brains of twenty-seven adolescents using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and found a correlation between lower glutathione and major depressive disorder.

Using sophisticated neuroimaging technology, scientists found that there were lower levels of glutathione in the occipital cortex for adolescents with depression compared to healthy adolescent brains.

Source: A pilot study of cortical glutathione in youth with depression
Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging

Multiple studies have shown that supplementation with NAC improves depressive symptoms in those with bipolar disorder. Thus, more recent studies are in the pipeline for NAC in the mental health department.

Neuroinflammation and Depression Link

Another study showed that a three-month treatment with oral NAC (600mg twice a day) reduces blood levels of C-reactive protein. C-reactive protein levels are high in people with increased levels of inflammation. C-reactive protein (CRP) is often utilized as an inflammatory marker for serious medical conditions such as septic shock.

Depression on the Brain and NAC.

A study done at Londrina State University found that after 12 weeks of NAC as an additional treatment to sixty-seven patients with depression and anxiety symptoms had improved symptoms in those with higher baseline inflammatory markers.

The biggest downside to this study is that most of the general population will not have the means to quantitatively measure increased inflammation. Unless you have a home kit that can test for CRP or other inflammatory markers, it might not be fruitful to take NAC for possible mental health benefits. That’s not to say that you can’t try.

The Bottom Line

NAC may only improve anxiety and depression if your body has high inflammation to start with.

Interested in learning more about N-acetylcysteine?



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  1. Freed, Rachel et al. A pilot study of cortical glutathione in youth with depression. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging. 2017(270): 54-60.
  2. Porcu, Mauro et al. Effects of adjunctive N-acetylcysteine on depressive symptoms: Modulation by baseline high-sensitivity C-reactive protein. Psychiatry Research. 2018(263): 268-274
  3. Saddadi et al., 2014. Saddadi F., Alatab S., Pasha F., Ganji M.R., and Soleimanian T.: The effect of treatment with N-acetylcysteine on the serum levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 in patients on hemodialysis. Saudi J. Kidney Dis. Transpl. 2014; 25: 66-72

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