Key Takeaways

  • Glutathione is a well-known antioxidant and detoxifying compound
  • Glutathione levels significantly decrease with age, causing many age-related disorders
  • Low doses of N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), another detoxifying compound, can increase glutathione levels and prevent the detrimental changes linked to its decline. In theory, NAC could promote longevity in humans

Actions to Consider

  • NAC is available as an inexpensive over-the-counter supplement. Daily doses ranging from 600 to 1,800 mg per day seem to be safe and effective in reducing oxidative stress, but there is no universal opinion on what doses promote longevity in humans
  • If you’re looking for a high-quality NAC product, try the one from Swanson

A new use for a long-known medication

Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that’s naturally present in the cells of the human body. Its primary function is to protect the cellular components (organelles) from damage caused by free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Glutathione levels decline with age, making the cells more vulnerable to the action of ROS.

Luckily, there seems to be a solution to this problem.

N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), a conventional medication used to treat poisoning, has been reported to boost glutathione levels. Could this be enough to prevent age-related glutathione decline and promote healthspan in older people?

What is this study about?

A study published in Redox Biology by the scientists at Oregon State University reported that many age-related disorders could be based on a decline in cellular glutathione. N-acetyl-cysteine could help to maintain declining glutathione levels.

Understanding glutathione

The human body uses oxygen to burn glucose for energy. In the process, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are inevitably formed in all cells of the body. If local levels of ROS increase too much, they can damage the cell components (including genetic information) and contribute to the development of many health conditions.

Glutathione neutralizes ROS, preventing them from damaging the cells.

Glutathione in aging

In today’s study, scientists reported that glutathione levels in older rats dropped by 90% in the process of aging. Naturally, this deficit in antioxidative potential caused a significant increase in oxidative stress and made the cells much more vulnerable.

As mentioned in the study, the cells of older animals (with low glutathione) died twice as fast from stress than the cells of young animal (with normal glutathione levels).

NAC: an easy fix for glutathione deficiency in aging cells?

The authors of this study mentioned that N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) can boost glutathione synthesis and enhance its function. Currently, NAC is used mostly in emergency care to treat severe toxic events (for example, heavy metal poisoning).

In theory, taking NAC as a preventive supplement could maintain healthy levels of glutathione in the aging cells, reducing oxidative stress, and promoting longevity. In this study, animals treated with NAC experienced a much less prominent loss of glutathione: 65% at most, compared to 90% in the non-treated group.  


Although we’ll need a few large-scale clinical trials to be sure of the safety and effectiveness of this approach, supplementing with N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) seems to be an excellent solution to age-related glutathione decline.

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