Great report today from Dr Michael Murray on studies showing the benefits of NAC ( N-Acetyl Cysteine, an amino acid) on the irritability experienced by some people on the autistic spectrum. I also note he points out that NAC is a known mucolytic – helps break down mucus. I have often advised this for people with sinus, bronchitis and cough problems and seen it work so bear that in mind too.
NAC Produces Significant Benefit in Reducing Irritability in Autistic Children
Autism is a condition characterized by difficulties with social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests that usually become apparent before a child is three years old. Autism spectrum or autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has three primary forms:
- Classic autism
- Asperger syndrome
- Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
The cause of autism is extremely controversial. It does have a strong genetic component, but like most health conditions dietary and environmental factors play a huge role in whether the genetic predisposition manifest. Although controversies surround the various proposed environmental causes, such as heavy metals, pesticides, or childhood vaccines, there is little doubt that genetics factors on their own are insufficient to lead to autism.
Benefits of N-Acetylcysteine (NAC):
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a derivative of the naturally occurring amino acid, cysteine. It is used as a nutritional supplement primarily for its potential role in boosting tissue levels of glutathione -a small protein composed of three amino acids – cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine. Glutathione is an important antioxidant that is also involved in detoxification mechanisms. In addition, NAC has been shown to exert the following benefits:
- Antioxidant effects – NAC through boosting glutathione levels exerts significant antioxidant effecs.
- Bronchial and lung disorders – NAC has an extensive history of use as a mucolytic in the treatment of acute and chronic lung conditions such as emphysema, bronchitis, chronic asthma, and cystic fibrosis. It improves bronchial and lung function, reduces cough, and improves oxygen saturation in the blood in these conditions.
- Physical endurance – NAC has been shown to reduce fatigue during prolonged exercise.
Based upon several biochemical mechanisms it appears that NAC may address some of the key underlying brain issues in autism. To test this hypothesis a double-blind study was conducted in 33 children with autism. The children receiving NAC were given it a dosage of 900 mg daily for 4 weeks, then 900 mg twice daily for 4 weeks and 900 mg three times daily for 4 weeks. A number of parameters were included to gauge the effect. The most significant change was in the irritability scale. The children taking NAC experienced significant improvements in irritability. Although larger studies are indicated this pilot study highlights the possibility that some children with autism may see benefit with NAC supplementation.
Hardan AY, Fung LK, Libove RA, et al. A randomized controlled pilot trial of oral N-acetylcysteine in children with autism. Biol Psychiatry. 2012 Jun 1;71(11):956-61.