N-acetyl-cystein (NAC) and PCOS

At the moment I am measuring time by how long I have left before our baby is due. Today I have 15 weeks to go and whilst I’m so excited, I can’t help but think about how much I would still like to do before he makes his arrival!

One of the things that I have been meaning to do for a while is look into the benefits of N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) for women with PCOS. It is a question that I am often asked about and you can’t read too many PCOS forums without coming across NAC.

Before we get into the details, I just also want to let you know that I haven’t tried NAC myself. I obviously don’t want to try something new whilst I’m pregnant and maybe even after, when I’m breastfeeding. So all of the information below is from research I have done and is not based on my own experience.

So, let’s look at what NAC is and if it could be helpful for women with PCOS, as well as some questions that I have about it (and think you may too).

What is NAC?

Without being too technical and getting into too much of the medical mumbo jumbo, NAC is derived from an amino acid called L-cystein. It is also needed for the production of glutathione, one of the body’s most potent anti-oxidants (1) . Interestingly, women with PCOS have a much higher rate of oxidative stress and the glutathione may well help to combat this (2).

How does it work?

To be honest, I couldn’t find a lot of research into the “how” of NAC with PCOS. What I did come across,

Inflammation image on blackboard

however, was a really interesting article on the effects of oxidative stress on insulin and testosterone levels. Researchers found that the oxidative stress we all suffer from leads to a state of inflammation which causes high insulin and testosterone levels (2).

So, what if NAC promotes the production of glutathione that helps to combat the oxidative stress caused by PCOS, leading to am improvement in symptoms? This really is just a theory and I’m no medical researcher so I could well be wrong. I just think that the link is really interesting.

Moving on, let’s look at what the benefits are of taking NAC for PCOS.

NAC and PCOS – The Research

There have been a number of research studies conducted on the benefits of NAC for women with PCOS. Here are the outcomes:

NAC improves insulin sensitivity and lowers testosterone levels

In a study of 6 lean and 31 obese women with PCOS, researchers found that the women given 1.6g per day of NAC had improved insulin sensitivity and lower testosterone levels. Also, there was no change in women who had a normal insulin response.

The conclusion was that women who are hyperinsulinemic (you have too much circulating insulin for the glucose or carbs you have eaten) may benefit from the use of NAC (3).

Similar effects as Metformin but without the Side effects

Another study compared Metformin to NAC. All women saw a huge decrease in BMI, testosterone levels, hirsutism and improved menstrual cycle (4). Only the women in the Metformin group complained of any side effects.

Helps to Improve fertility

There have been a lot of studies on the benefits of using NAC with women who are taking Clomid.

Researchers have found that the combination of NAC and Clomid results in improved ovulation rates compared with those women taking Clomid alone (5). But, the same researchers found that if women are Clomid resistant (Clomid did not cause ovulation), then a combination of Clomid and Metformin is more effective than Clomid and NAC (6).

So, if you have already tried a couple of rounds of Clomid and did not ovulate, Metformin is a better option than NAC.

Summing it Up

women pinching body fatThe bottom line is that NAC has been shown to be helpful in treating a lot of the symptoms of PCOS including difficulty with weight loss, increased hair growth, irregular menstrual cycle and infertility. It can be used alongside Metformin and Clomid or on it’s own as a supplement to manage PCOS.

So, that generally sounds good and like it may well be worth a try. I had a couple of questions about using NAC so these are the answers I came across in my research. I’m sure you have questions that I haven’t thought of so leave me a comment below and I’ll do my best to find the answers for you.

Does my doctor need to prescribe it for me?

NAC is available as a supplement and does not need a prescription. However, if you’re taking Metformin or any other prescribed medication to manage your PCOS, I would absolutely check with your doctor first.

Where can I get it from?

NAC is sold as a supplement and can be found in your local health food store or on Amazon.

How much should I take?

A lot of the research was done on 1.2g -1.8 g per day.

Can I take it with Inositol?

I must be honest and say that I have not found any medical research on the use of Inositol and NAC together. Having had a look at a number of PCOS forums, there are definitely women who use the two simultaneously with little side effects (or so it seems). Again, if you’re unsure, ask your doctor. It does seem to me, though, that the two supplements work on two different things and shouldn’t interact. Also, NAC will only work if your insulin levels are too high and Inositol may already address high insulin levels.

As I said before, if you have any questions about NAC that I haven’t already answered, please let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them. Also, if you are taking NAC and have seen good results, please let me know! I’m always keen to hear your experiences of things that have worked for you!

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Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and PCOS expert who has been a leader in the online PCOS space for over 8 years. Tarryn has the support of leading clinicians from around the world who support her scientific approach to understanding and talking about PCOS this includes all medical journals and ongoing research. You can read more about Tarryn and the team here.

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