How Effective Is N- Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) For OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder that affects millions of children and adults in the US. If you’re diagnosed with OCD, the first lines of intervention usually involve therapy and medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

When conventional treatments don’t work, you may struggle to manage the distress that comes with OCD symptoms.

Luckily, a growing body of research on N-acetylcysteine or NAC for OCD provides hope for people with treatment-resistant symptoms.

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is N-acetylcysteine?

NAC is a natural supplement that has been used for decades. Scientists first developed the drug in 1960 for loosening mucus in people with lung issues, such as bronchitis and asthma. However, it has since evolved to serve other purposes, including treating acetaminophen overdoses and mental health conditions.

Research¹ shows that NAC’s antioxidant and glutamate-modulating agent impacts brain chemical messengers. As such, it can help treat mental health conditions like OCD.

How NAC works

NAC is an amino acid that contains cysteine, a naturally occurring element in the body. When you ingest the drug, your body immediately turns it into antioxidants. These molecules prevent damage caused by excess reactive oxygen species (ROS) in your body, as high levels of ROS can be harmful.

NAC is also a popular choice for people who overdose on acetaminophen. Acetaminophen contains high N-acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine (NAPQI), which can damage the liver. NAC works by counteracting the effects of NAPQI on your body using a detoxifier known as glutathione. It deactivates NAPQI and prevents liver damage.

Can NAC treat OCD symptoms?

OCD is a mental condition with long-lasting symptoms. While NAC isn’t a natural cure for obsessions and compulsions, it does have a hand in reducing anxiety² among OCD patients.

Another study³ revealed that when NAC is added to fluvoxamine—the antidepressant drug for OCD—it helps manage symptoms faster.

NAC binds to glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter usually elevated in OCD patients. The binding of glutamate and NAC offers relief from OCD symptoms as it reduces the circulation of glutamate levels.

Some of the other ways NAC impacts brain function and OCD symptoms include the following:

It lowers stress levels

An increase in oxidative compounds in the body causes oxidative damage, leading to a massive deterioration of tissues and cells. The antioxidant effect of NAC helps fight ROS, which causes oxidative stress in the body.

It reduces inflammation

When inflammatory chemicals such as cytokines increase in the body, it’s common for mental health conditions to kick in. NAC reduces the effects of these chemicals, preventing comorbidities such as depression that aggravate your OCD.

It increases dopamine levels

Dopamine is essential for movements and emotional responses. When the body has unbalanced dopamine levels, it affects brain functioning, which triggers obsessions and compulsive behavior. NAC increases dopamine levels so that the brain stabilizes.

It reduces glutamate levels

High levels of glutamate in the body can cause OCD as it creates a chemical imbalance. NAC binds with glutamate to neutralize its impact on OCD and other mental health conditions.

Is NAC for OCD treatment safe?

Although NAC is approved as a mucolytic for bronchitis and asthma, the FDA is yet to support NAC for OCD or other mental health disorders. As such, it remains unclear just how effective it can be in managing the condition, among other mental illnesses. Research is still ongoing.

Most people who have used NAC only experience minor side effects like stomach upset, meaning the body can tolerate it in manageable doses. However, like most supplements, NAC can interact with your medications⁴.

For example, if you use nitroglycerin, NAC can increase its effects, leading to bad headaches. Therefore, always talk to a doctor or mental health professional before taking NAC.

The lowdown

Until recently, NAC has been known to be effective only in loosening mucus and treating acetaminophen overdoses. Researchers now believe that NAC can help manage various mental health conditions, including OCD.

While it’s still unclear how effective NAC for OCD is, talking to your doctor or a mental health expert can help you assess all your options, especially if your OCD symptoms resist conventional treatment.

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take for NAC to treat OCD?

NAC isn’t an instant cure. Treatment length depends on the severity of OCD symptoms. In many cases, however, a reduction of OCD symptoms can be seen from four to eight weeks.

Can NAC treat other mental health conditions?

Over the past decade, researchers have discovered that NAC can help treat depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Does NAC help in managing anxiety disorders?

While research on NAC for anxiety is still ongoing, early signs indicate that NAC can help lower anxiety symptoms.

Can NAC be used for substance disorders?

NAC can be particularly useful in preventing relapse among individuals with a history of substance abuse, especially cocaine and marijuana.

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Discover which clinical trials you are eligible for

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