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Is NAC good for hangovers? In this article, we're going to take a detailed look at whether NAC can be used to support hangover recovery.
If you’re reading this article, the chances are that you already know a thing or two about NAC and are looking to learn more about using it for hangovers.
NAC is short for N-Acetyl- Cysteine which is an amino acid.
It's commonly known for its detoxifying properties. So naturally, you may be wondering if NAC also helps with hangovers.
We should mention that at the time of publishing this article, NAC's definition as a dietary supplement has been removed by the FDA and is pending review. Therefore you can't purchase NAC supplements in the US.
So, with the introductions out of the way, let’s start taking a closer look at NAC for hangovers.
What is NAC?
NAC has a few different names:
- Just "acetylcysteine"
However you want to call it, it's all the same thing.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is a supplement form of cysteine. Cysteine is found in most high-protein foods, such as chicken, turkey, yogurt, cheese, eggs, sunflower seeds, and legumes.
NAC is an amino acid that is best known for its role in replenishing glutathione levels. This is because NAC is the precursor to glutathione which is known as one of the most powerful antioxidants in our body.
In fact, NAC is used in hospitals around the world to prevent liver damage from acetaminophen overdose in the same way - By boosting glutathione levels.
Next up, we'll take a closer look at what the causes of a hangover are before seeing if NAC can help prevent or treat them.
NAC is the supplement form of the amino acid cysteine. It's a "semi-essential" amino acid that is important in the production of glutathione which is a powerful antioxidant.
Causes of a hangover
Before we get into whether NAC is good for hangovers or not, we'll first need to understand how alcohol causes hangovers.
Although dehydration is one of the main causes of a hangover, it's not the only one:
It's true that alcohol is a diuretic which means it makes your kidneys flush out extra water. Clearly, NAC isn't going to help with hangover related dehydration because only water can solve that problem.
Aside from this, the by-products of alcohol metabolism are another reason why we get hangovers. When alcohol is broken down in your liver, toxic substances such as acetaldehyde are formed. These are highly reactive and damage the cells they come into contact with causing inflammation.
Antioxidants, such as glutathione, neutralize some of these by-products before they cause damage.
And this is where it's thought NAC could help with hangovers.
Is NAC good for hangovers?
So, now on to the all-important question, is NAC good for hangovers?
In 2021, a group of researchers gave NAC to 49 healthy volunteers to test it out. The research paper was published in the renowned publication, nature.
The researchers gave between 600 and 1800mg of NAC prior to drinking and used a questionnaire to rate hangover severity.
The results showed that the female participants reported less nausea and weakness with NAC. In males, there was no significant difference.(1)
At the time of writing, this is the only decent quality study looking into NAC for hangovers. On that note, it's still only a small study and much more research needs to be done.
In summary, it's not proven whether NAC is good for hangover prevention or not. To date, there's been one study that is suggestive of NAC improving specific hangover symptoms such as nausea and weakness in women only.
Does NAC protect the liver from alcohol?
The answer to this question is, absolutely not.
NAC will not protect the liver from alcohol. In fact, nothing in the world exists that can protect the liver from alcohol.
NAC side effects
As with most supplements, side effects with NAC are uncommon. But they do happen. These include:
- a skin rash
Side effects are more commonly seen when NAC is given in hospital at high doses with an IV infusion.
Anything else to consider
Hangovers are a sign from your body that you've been drinking too much alcohol for your liver to handle. Taking NAC to prevent hangovers is the wrong approach.
The best way to prevent hangovers is to drink less alcohol. Second, to this, making sure you eat before going out and keeping well hydrated are also important.
Sticking to lighter-colored drinks may also help. That's because they contain fewer congeners which have been shown in studies to make hangovers more severe. You can read more about this in our article about congeners.
NAC for hangovers - Final verdict
That brings us to the end of our look into NAC for hangovers.
There are many hangover prevention supplements on the market that include NAC in their formula. However, the benefits of NAC for hangovers is anecdotal at best.
What is certain is that NAC will not protect the liver from the damaging effects of alcohol.
On top of this, NAC's status has changed from dieteary supplement to a medicine by the FDA. So you are not currently able to purchase NAC supplements.(2)