Life Extension Magazine®

Issue: Jan 1998

Beating the Congestion Blues

Winter means colds, flu and other health woes. Studies show that N-acetyl-cysteine is effective in preventing these and other lung disorders, including asthma and bronchitis.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, on January 2021.

Questions And Answers

Studies show that N-acetylcysteine is effective in preventing colds, flu, bronchitis, asthma, and other disorders affecting the lung

Q: Periodically, I get bouts of chronic bronchitis, which leads to congestion in my throat and a persistent cough. Every time I see the doctor about this problem, he prescribes a commonly used liquid medicine that has a terrible taste and provides only short-term relief. Though the bronchitis sometimes goes away, it usually returns as bad as before. Can you recommend a natural therapy that might help?

A: The scientific evidence indicates that the best nutritional therapy to help maintain healthy lung function is N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a version of the sulfur amino acid cysteine. Many studies have shown that NAC is effective in preventing colds, flu, bronchitis, asthma and other disorders affecting the lungs. In this issue, we present evidence that NAC was highly effective in preventing flu symptoms in more than 200 elderly and chronically ill people. NAC can also be effective in treating other lung disorders. An effective dose of NAC is 1,000 mg (one gram) a day.

Although NAC's mechanism for maintaining healthy lung function has yet to be clearly defined, it's likely tied to the ability to prevent and reverse free-radical damage caused either from exposure to excessively high levels of oxygen or from oxygen deprivation (ischemia). Studies have shown that NAC can protect lung tissue from this kind of damage, which can occur easily in the lungs because they are involved in the body's exchange of carbon dioxide (CO2) and oxygen (O2). One way NAC counters free radical damage is by regenerating glutathione, one of the body's most potent natural antioxidants.

Recent evidence (Arzheim-Forsch/ Drug Res, 47[1] 710-715) indicates that N-acetylcysteine can protect the heart as well as the lungs from free-radical damage resulting from oxygen metabolism. In this study, NAC preserved the integrity of epithelial tissue in rat hearts exposed to severe insults from hyperbaric oxygen and pronounced exposure to ischemia.

Q: I have mild arthritis, and my doctor continues to prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs help a bit, but they upset my stomach. I keep asking my doctor to give me something else for my arthritis, but he says he's giving the best drugs available. Is he right?

A: No. The most commonly prescribed drugs for arthritis and other inflammation disorders are non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs such as indomethacin, naproxen and diclofenac. These drugs often work well in the short run. However, they fail to treat the process underlying the degeneration of cartilage; plus, long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs can worsen cartilage breakdown and prevent natural anabolic repair.

Ten years ago, a U.S. physician's committee warned against over-prescribing non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. In addition, a Canadian expert panel of doctors recently reviewing the prescribing practices of 112 physicians in the country came to the conclusion that these drugs were inappropriately prescribed for 42 percent of patients. The panel's report in the September issue of Annals of Internal Medicine found that unneeded drugs were more likely to be prescribed when doctors failed to elicit personal case histories, which included high blood pressure or ulcers, conditions that make patients poor candidates for anti-inflammatories. In a 1995 survey, 41 percent of U.S. doctors reported that the time they spent with patients had decreased over the past three years.

You are right to be concerned about your upset stomach when taking non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs, because they increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and perforation of the stomach lining. These drugs have been shown to cause about 8,000 deaths and nearly 80,000 hospitalizations a year-mostly of elderly patients-in the U.S. and Canada.

There are nutrients you can take to lessen pain, to protect the lining of your joints, and to help repair the cartilage damage that underlies your condition. These nutrients won't provide immediate relief, but they are likely to work far better in the long run and are unlikely to cause adverse side effects.

Among the nutrients shown to be helpful for arthritis are: glucosamine, which provides the raw material needed for chondrocytes to regenerate cartilage; chondroitin sulfates, which provide structural components of cartilage; and essential fatty acids, such as GLA (gamma linolenic acid) as well as fish oils rich in EPA and DHA, which reduce pain and inflammation in tender joints.

The best combination of these nutrients is found in Natural Pain Relief Formula, designed by an arthritis sufferer who used it to cure himself and who has helped many others with his unique multi-nutrient formula. You can obtain this formula by calling 1-800-544-4440.

Q: I recently had surgery on my foot. The doctor says it will take six to eight weeks to heal, but I don't want to wait that long. I asked him if there was anything I could take with my food to speed healing, but he said only that I should eat healthy. I already do that. What else can I do?

A: There is considerable evidence that taking large supplemental doses of the amino acidArgininecan improve the healing process. Much of this work was performed by Adrian Barbul and his associates at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s. Barbul found that arginine increases the weight of the thymus (the master gland of immunity), stimulates the growth of new cells to replace injured ones, and speeds the buildup of collagen, the material between cells that holds them together.

These studies also provided evidence thatArginineaccelerates the wound-healing process by stimulating the release of "pro-healing" hormones such as growth hormone and by blocking the release of "anti-healing" hormones from the pituitary gland, the master organ of the endocrine system.

To avoid competing with other amino acids,Arginineshould be taken on an empty stomach at a dosage of 5 to 10 grams a day for wound healing. The amino acid's unpleasant taste makes it difficult to take as a powder. So, the easiest way to take it is in 1,200 mg capsules. If you take it before going to bed, it will work synergistically during sleep (when both growth hormone and melatonin are released in abundance) to promote healing.

SinceArginineis an effective dietary means of stimulating the release of growth hormone from the pituitary gland, some people over 40 take it (and/or other GH-releasing nutrients) in an attempt to get the rejuvenation benefits of GH-replacement therapy. Because of arginine's ability to release growth hormone, some people take the amino acid just before doing exercise to enhance its muscle-building benefits. You can measure the GH-releasing effect of supplemental arginine by measuring your blood levels of somatomedin C (IGF-1).