N-Acetyl-Cysteine (Nac) and PCOS: How Can It Help?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can encompass a number of symptoms that are difficult to deal with both emotionally and physically. However, these symptoms can be improved by lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, naturally methods such as vitamins and supplements and also medical treatments. One supplement helpful for PCOS women is N-acetyl-cysteine. This is an A-list antioxidant that might just become your secret weapon in coping with common PCOS symptoms.
What is N-acetyl-cysteine?
N-acetyl-cysteine – or NAC as it’s more commonly referred to, derives from the amino acid L-cysteine and is needed for the production of one of the body’s most potent antioxidant, glutathione.i NAC offers countless cardiovascular, neurological, immunity, detoxification and respiratory tract benefits.ii When it comes to PCOS, data suggests it can have a very positive effect on insulin resistance, ovulatory responses and hormone imbalance. So in addition to refining your nutrition, exercise and stress management plan, it’s certainly worth adding this nutrient powerhouse to your diet.
Improves insulin resistance
In recent years, scientific attention has shifted to NAC’s role in improving insulin sensitivity, which is promising for PCOS women who can often develop it.iii In a randomized controlled trial, 31 obese and 6 lean women (aged 19-33 years) were given a 1.8g dose of NAC for 5-6 weeks. 6 of the 31 participants served as controls and were given the placebo.iv At the end of the study, those with exaggerated insulin responses showcased a noticeable improvement in their insulin function.
Interestingly, the NAC treatment helped to lower testosterone levels too, which is an added bonus if you have PCOS (high levels of this hormone can lead to excessive hair growth, balding and acne). In their conclusion, the researchers stated, “NAC may be a new treatment for the improvement of insulin circulating levels and insulin sensitivity in hyperinsulinemic patients with polycystic ovary syndrome."iv Insulin resistance is also often associated with type 2 diabetes - find out more about its connection with PCOS here.
PCOS women are more likely to face difficulties during conception. In fact as many as 20% of women with infertility problems have been diagnosed with PCOS.v Research now suggests NAC could assist in improving fertility A systematic review published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology scrutinized the benefits of NAC in 8 controlled trials involving 910 PCOS women.vi The evaluation proposed it could improve ovulation, pregnancy and birth rates when compared to a control.
Data indicates that NAC may even help women who are resistant to clomid – a traditional infertility treatment. A study published in the European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynaecology, and Reproductive Biology found that those resistant to clomid had a nine times higher ovulation rate, and a five times higher pregnancy rate after when taking NAC over a trial period.vii For more info on how to improve your chances of getting pregnant with PCOS, see our guide to understanding fertility issues.
Restores hormone balance
NAC has the added potential to regulate menstrual cycles and lower androgen levels. In a randomized trial, women with PCOS were divided into two groups and given 500mg metformin three times per day or 600mg NAC three times per day.ix Both treatments resulted in a marked decrease in testosterone levels, hirsutism (excessive hair growth) and menstrual irregularity. In light of this, it could be argued that NAC is an effective natural alternative to metformin – a form of medication that is often prescribed to women with PCOS.
To sum up
Overall then, NAC – a serious rising star on the supplement scene – seems to be promising treatment for PCOS, improving insulin resistance, increasing fertility and restoring hormone balance. If you’re keen of trailing NAC, the suggested therapeutic dose is 600mg x 3 daily, however we’d always recommend having a chat with your doctor or a registered nutritionist to determine the correct dose for you.
Want to discover even more ways to feel emotionally and physically empowered – ready to take on your PCOS? Feel free to browse the rest of our PCOS hub?
Mokhtari, V., Afsharian, P., Shahhoseini, M., Kalantar, S.M., Moini, A. (2017). A Review on Various Uses of N-Acetyl Cysteine. Cell Journal (Yakhteh). 19(1), 11–17.
Mokhtari, V. A Review on Various Uses of N-Acetyl Cysteine. 11–17.
Sacchinelli, A., Venturella, R., Lico, D., et al. (2014). The Efficacy of Inositol and N-Acetyl Cysteine Administration (Ovaric HP) in Improving the Ovarian Function in Infertile Women with PCOS with or without Insulin Resistance. Obstetrics and Gynecology International. vol. 2014, 5.
Fulghesu, A.M., et al. (2002). N-acetyl-cysteine treatment improves insulin sensitivity in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Fertil Steril. 77 (6): 1128-35.
Barthelmess, E.K., Naz,, R.K. (2014). Polycystic ovary syndrome: current status and future perspective. Frontiers in Bioscience (Elite Edition). 6, 104–119.
Thakker, D. (2015). N-acetylcysteine for polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Obstet Gynecol Int. 817-849.
Oner, G., et al. (2011). Clinical, endocrine and metabolic effects of metformin vs N-acetyl-cysteine in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Euro J Obst Gynecol Biol. 59(1): 127-131.
Agacayak, E. (2015). Levels of Neopterin and other Inflammatory Markers in Obese and Non-Obese Patients with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Med Sci Monit. 21:2446-55.368.
Kose, N.A., et al. (2015). N-acetyl cysteine reduces oxidative toxicity, apoptosis, and calcium entry through TRPV1 channels in the neutrophils of patients with polycystic ovary syndrome. Free Radic Res. 49(3): 338-46.