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Could NAC Help Me Get My OCD Under Control?

Everyone ruminates and worries from time to time. This is normal and healthy. And, guess what? Even people with sound mental health can occasionally “fixate” on or obsesses over things. However, it is also common to feel a little unhinged, confused, flustered, and/or frustrated when these fears, urges, mental images, doubts, and intrusive thoughts arise.

When “fixations” become so overwhelming that they threaten to overtake your life and negatively affect your health and well-being, it is time to seek help, because you may be suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This is especially true if your obsessions lead to compulsions. The good news is that researchers have discovered a way to effectively treat OCD, and it is called, n-acetyl cysteine (NAC).

When standard OCD treatments (i.e., medications and therapies) fail to produce the desired results, such as fewer obsessions and/or compulsions, it is referred to as treatment-resistant OCD. OCD symptoms that are resistant to treatment protocols can be quite distressing. However, studies suggest that OCD sufferers may receive relief when all other OCD treatments have failed by trying natural remedies like n-acetyl cysteine (NAC).

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is a supplement that can improve the brain’s natural stabilizing processes. But although researchers suggest that NAC can be beneficial for most people struggling with OCD, it may not work for everyone with the condition. Why? Well, because there tend to be variances in gene expression, brain morphology, neurochemistry, hormones, and general physiology in OCD sufferers. These components appear to influence OCD and interact with NAC – in some people.

If you would like to learn more about NAC and how it could help your OCD symptoms, you have come to the right place. In this article, I will discuss NAC’s ability to reduce or even eliminate your OCD symptoms (in some cases), so you can decide if this supplement is right for you and your condition.

So, could NAC help you get your OCD symptoms under control? Yes, it is a possibility.


What is OCD?

Wondering what OCD is? Well, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) involves recurrent and involuntary obsessions (i.e., intrusive thoughts, fears, doubts, worries, mental images, urges, etc.) and/or compulsions (i.e., rituals or routines).

The obsessions and compulsions tend to be upsetting, impulsive, unwanted, and persistent and involve a wide range of OCD types, such as counting, orderliness, contamination or germs, grooming, sanitizing or cleaning, checking, mantras or phrases, etc.

These thoughts and behaviors can severely impede your life and negatively affect your quality of life. OCD can also lead to a host of long-term and chronic consequences, such as failed relationships and marriages, lost friendships, unemployment and debt, low self-confidence and self-esteem, social isolation, anxiety, depression, feelings of guilt and shame, etc.

The first-line of treatment for OCD symptoms is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), referred to as exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, and antidepressants, referred to as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which can have unpleasant side effects and complications. Keep in mind that in the past, OCD sufferers would go years without a proper OCD diagnosis, partly due to a lack of knowledge and understanding (in the general population) and training (among mental health professionals).

Secrecy is another reason why people with OCD went undiagnosed for long periods. In other words, OCD sufferers would go to great lengths to hide their symptoms for fear of being stigmatized, labeled, and/or criticized. This remains the same today. People with OCD are known for hiding their symptoms from friends, family, romantic partners, and even mental health professionals because of shame and guilt, and extreme embarrassment.

It is for this reason that OCD is still considered a “secret condition.” And, although OCD awareness is slowly increasing in the general population, the ins and outs of the condition and related behaviors, such as repetitive hair-pulling, skin-picking, and nail-biting, are still largely unknown or misunderstood.

What is NAC?

N-acetylcysteine (n-acetyl cysteine derivative) or NAC is a revised or simplified form of cysteine, an amino acid. NAC is designed to help your body metabolize glutathione, an essential antioxidant. NAC is available as a dietary supplement and as a prescription medication. NAC interacts with the hormones/neurotransmitters, glutamate and dopamine, in the brain. These hormones/neurotransmitters transmit “chemical messages” to various cells and organs. Because NAC affects your brain, it is believed that it can help ease anxiety, depression, and OCD symptoms.

Why Was NAC Created?

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) was developed in the 1960s as a “mucolytic,” or chemical agent designed to loosen thick mucus. Later on, people and medical professionals began to use NAC for other purposes, such as for acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdoses. Today, researchers suggest that NAC interacts with hormones/neurotransmitters (brain chemical messengers).

What Can NAC Help?

NAC is FDA-approved for acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdoses and as a “mucolytic” (a chemical agent that loosens thick mucus). Acetaminophen, the generic version of Tylenol, is a common pain reliever. In cases of acetaminophen poisoning or overdose, NAC prevents or reduces liver damage.

As a “mucolytic,” NAC “breaks up” thick mucus in people with lung diseases, such as bronchitis, asthma, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). NAC may also treat or prevent a variety of conditions, such as heart attacks and strokes in people with kidney disease or trichotillomania (compulsive hair-pulling), a type of OCD. As previously mentioned, NAC can be used as a prescription drug or a dietary supplement.

Do I Need a Prescription for NAC?

No, you do not.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is available in prescription form and as an over-the-counter (OTC) antioxidant. So, you do not have to have a prescription for NAC unless you want or need higher doses of the supplement.

How Much NAC Should I Take for My OCD Symptoms?

NAC has been extensively studied as a first-line treatment for acetaminophen “Tylenol” overdoses and cystic fibrosis, because unlike antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds, NAC is not linked to severe side effects, complications, or addictions.

Common side effects include mild skin irritations, headaches/migraines, and nausea (on high doses), however, most OCD sufferers little-to-no adverse effects. Therefore, most OCD therapists recommend a NAC dosage of 600mg, per day, taken on an empty stomach for OCD – at least initially. NAC should not be taken with protein food sources because they can prevent your body from fully absorbing NAC’s amino acid-derived compounds.

Many OCD sufferers find relief with this dosage (i.e., fewer obsessions and/or compulsions). However, people with severe OCD symptoms may need between 1200mg and 1800mg, per day, to get relief from their OCD symptoms.

Note: Although, NAC is considered safe, effective, and well-tolerated, it is best to take the lowest dose possible for your OCD symptoms.

How Does NAC Affect the Brain?

NAC can affect the brain in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Less Stress – Because NAC is an antioxidant, researchers believe it can effectively combat harmful “free radicals.” Large amounts of “free radicals” can cause oxidative stress, which can damage or destroy brain cells and tissues.
  • Reduce Inflammation – NAC lower cytokines or inflammatory chemicals, in the brain. Researchers suggest that inflammation can play a role in conditions, like anxiety, OCD, depression
  • Lower Glutamate Levels – Excess glutamate, a hormone/neurotransmitter, is linked to various mental health conditions, like OCD. Researchers suggest that NAC may lower glutamate levels, thereby, reducing obsessions and/or compulsions.
  • Increase Dopamine Levels – Low levels of dopamine, a hormone/neurotransmitter responsible for emotional responses and behavior, can trigger OCD symptoms. According to researchers, NAC can increase dopamine levels, stabilize your mood, and reduce your obsessions and/or compulsions.

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How Does NAC Work for OCD Symptoms?

As mentioned previously, NAC is a form of cysteine, an amino acid. Cysteine is innate, which means it is a naturally-occurring chemical in the body. When you supplement with NAC, it turns into glutathione, an antioxidant. Antioxidants are molecules that prevent “free radicals” or “reactive oxygen species” (ROS) from damaging your body. “Free radicals” are naturally found in the body, but too many of them can be harmful.

Taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can cause your body to produce extra n-acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine (NAPQI), which can be extremely toxic, and could cause liver damage. NAC combats NAPQI by triggering the production and release of glutathione, which in turn, detoxifies or inactivates NAPQI, and protects your liver from damage.

Studies indicate that NAC’s effectiveness is multifaceted. It not only targets and “normalizes” hormone/neurotransmitter functions but also reduces the damage caused by oxidative stress and inflammation. NAC helps to limit or “reverse” this damage. Researchers have linked OCD to oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain.

NAC appears to trigger the production of natural liver enzymes, which help prevent, reduce, limit, and stop oxidative damage. It can also help areas of the brain and body that have been damaged by oxidative stress and inflammation. Researchers also found that people with OCD have high levels of glutamate, an extremely excitatory hormone/neurotransmitter. NAC reduces glutamate in the body, thereby, reducing OCD symptoms (intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors).

Can NAC Help Children With OCD?

NAC is also being studied as a treatment for pediatric OCD. Yale researchers suggest that children, ages 8-17, who are struggling with treatment-resistant OCD, may benefit from NAC supplementation.

Is NAC Beneficial For OCD Symptoms?

Yes, it is (for the most part).

NAC may help a variety of mental health conditions, such as OCD, anxiety, and even autism spectrum disorder (in some cases). NAC may be beneficial for any health condition that involves recurrent compulsions (non-stop rituals and routines). NAC is also more affordable than standard OCD treatments, such as CBT, ERP therapy, ACT, and SSRIs (i.e., Luvox, Zoloft, Prozac, etc.).

You can even purchase the supplement over-the-counter. It is also safer and easier to tolerate than most antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. Daily NAC use has also shown success for OCD symptoms that are resistant to conventional treatment methods. Still, more research is needed to truly understand the full scope of benefits provided by NAC for OCD.

Could NAC Help Ease My Trichotillomania OCD Symptoms?

According to researchers, NAC may help some adults with trichotillomania better manage their OCD symptoms (i.e., hair-pulling). People with trichotillomania report only experiencing mild nausea while taking NAC for the condition.

What Does It Feel Like to Take NAC for OCD?

You are probably wondering what it feels like to take NAC for OCD, and that is only natural. You may also wonder if you would experience any negative effects from taking it for the condition. That is also normal. Well, truthfully, the effects that you may experience (outside of the positive benefits of fewer obsessions and compulsions), hinge on the state of your brain (i.e. if your brain is functioning at an optimal level).

Many OCD sufferers report experiencing mental clarity, fewer intrusive thoughts, fears, urges, and worries, lower levels of anxiety and stress, fewer incidences of “brain fog,” a better mood, and more energy, focus, optimism, stability, and motivation after taking NAC for their OCD symptoms. This appears to be due to NAC’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

What is Better for OCD – Medications or NAC?

Antidepressants (SSRIs) are typically the “go-to” treatment for OCD, primarily because a serotonin deficiency is linked to mental health conditions, like anxiety, depression, and OCD. OCD sufferers are linked to abnormal glutamate and dopamine levels, the presence of “free radicals,” and high inflammation levels. However, NAC helps “regulate” the levels, thereby, reducing intrusive thoughts, urges, fears, and compulsive behaviors. Some experts believe that is better to take NAC than become dependent on prescription medications to control your OCD symptoms.

Unlike many antidepressants, NAC does not come with serious side effects. It can also be obtained without a prescription, which makes it convenient and more affordable than other OCD medications. It is important to understand that research in this area (NAC’s ability to ease OCD symptoms indefinitely) is inconclusive. Still, the consensus is that NAC is safer, more effective, and more beneficial for OCD than traditional antidepressants.

Is There Anything Else I Should Know Before Taking NAC For My OCD Symptoms?

Yes, there is.

According to limited studies, NAC does not appear to reduce the severity of OCD symptoms. However, it does appear to decrease anxiety in some OCD sufferers. A 2016 study found that combining NAC and fluvoxamine (an SSRI) may “quiet” the mind and reduce OCD symptoms – in some people. However, more studies are needed to determine if NAC can effectively reduce OCD symptoms across the board.

Researchers also suggest that NAC can alleviate depression – in some people, by reducing the amount of inflammation and glutamate in the body. A meta-analysis corroborated this finding, through study results, that found that NAC can help ease depression symptoms. Conversely, critics found that NAC does not significantly improve depression symptoms.

But more research is needed to determine NAC’s full effects on depression symptoms. NAC has also been used to treat general anxiety symptoms. However, researchers suggest that there is currently not enough information to safely recommend NAC for the treatment of anxiety conditions.

What Else Can I Do for My OCD Symptoms?

Fortunately, there are several things you can do for your OCD symptoms that do not involve medications or dietary supplements.

Getting proper sleep and exercise and adopting a healthy diet (full of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients) can help improve your mental health and reduce your OCD symptoms. Hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, OCD support groups, forums, books, and online OCD programs, like Impulse Therapy, can support your prescribed treatment plan or be taken alone.

The best part? You can combine these natural remedies with NAC and conventional OCD treatments, like CBT, ACT, ERP therapy, and/or SSRIs. Developing healthy coping skills and strategies can also help you effectively manage your OCD symptoms, so you can have a healthy and productive life.


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DR. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham has a B.A. in English, an M.M.F.T in Marriage and Family Therapy (Psychology), and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She is currently a medical, health & wellness contributor, copywriter, and psychological consultant

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