Patients with Alzheimer's disease may benefit by taking an antioxidant called N-acetylcysteine (NAC), according to results of a small preliminary study from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Free radicals – harmful oxygen molecules that produced in the body as a normal consequence of metabolism, are thought to make the plaques in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients worse.
The research team gave 23 patients with Alzheimer's disease NAC and compared them with 20 similar Alzheimer's patients who took an inactive placebo. After 6 months, patients taking NAC did not fare much better in performing their day-to-day activities than patients taking a placebo. But the NAC patients did outperform placebo patients on certain tests that measured their reasoning skills. According to the researchers, the treatment was well tolerated by the patients, but after three months headache tended to be more common among patients receiving NAC.
Although the results were modest, there appeared to be improvement on certain tasks but exactly how the antioxidant helped is not clear.
The supplement NAC is a modified form of cysteine, an amino acid found in protein-rich foods. Studies have found it to be well tolerated but occasional side effects may include nausea and diarrhea. Safety of this supplement has not been evaluated in young children or pregnant and breastfeeding women.
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