- Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital studied 31 children with autism.
- In a double-blind study, the children received N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) or a placebo for 12 weeks.
- The NAC used was a pharmaceutical-grade preparation donated by the neutraceutical manufacturer BioAdvantex Pharma.
- Subjects were evaluated before the trial began and every four weeks during the study using several standardized surveys that measure problem behaviors, social behaviors, autistic preoccupations, and drug side effects.
- During the 12-week trial, NAC treatment decreased irritability scores from 13.1 to 7.2 on the Aberrant Behaviour Checklist, a widely used clinical scale for assessing irritability.
- In addition, according to two standardized measures of autism mannerisms and stereotypic behavior, children taking NAC showed a decrease in repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. The researchers believe that NAC could be the first medication available to treat repetitive behavior in autism – if the findings hold up when scrutinized further.
- The change in irritability scores is not as large as that seen in children taking antipsychotics. But these drugs cause significant side effects, including weight gain, involuntary motor movements and metabolic syndrome, which increases diabetes risk.
- By contrast, the side effects of NAC are generally mild, with gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, nausea, diarrhea and decreased appetite being the most common.
- Dr Hardan cautioned that the NAC for sale as a dietary supplement at stores differs in some important respects from the individually packaged doses of pharmaceutical-grade NAC used in the study, and that the over-the-counter version may not produce the same results.
- He said: ‘When you open the bottle from the drugstore and expose the pills to air and sunlight, it gets oxidized and becomes less effective.’
- Researchers speculate that NAC reduces irritability and repetitive behaviors by increasing the capacity of the body’s main antioxidant network and modulating the glutamatergic family of excitatory neurotransmitters.
- The scientists are now applying for funding to conduct a large trial in which they hope to replicate their findings.
- Stanford University is filing a patent for the use of NAC in autism, and one of the study authors has a financial stake in a company that makes and sells the NAC used in the trial.
- The researchers said that the findings must be confirmed in a larger trial before NAC can be recommended for children with autism.
- The study appears in Biological Psychiatry.
More Information on NAC
- Serves as a precursor for the synthesis of glutathione. (Glutathione plays a critical role in protecting the liver from toxins and protecting cells from oxidative damage. Low levels of glutathione is lined to a number of diseases that are associated with oxidative stress).
- NAC is also known for its mucolytic properties and its ability to chelate heavy metals.
- NAC may be part of a treatment plan for neurological diseases, liver disease, chronic infections, or any other disease associated with a compromised antioxidant defense where a higher glutathione level is desired.
For years, the autism community has used NAC to help our children. While we are glad that, at last, a supplement is getting some positive “press” from the mainstream medical community, we were disheartened to hear that NAC will likely become a prescription pharmaceutical. Once this happens, our cost will go from $8.00 per bottle to $80.00 per bottle, plus the cost of a doctor’s visit to obtain a prescription.
It was also disappointing that one of the study authors has “a financial stake in a company that makes and sells the NAC used in the trial.” Hmmmm – is it really true that over the counter versions of NAC are not as effective as the pharmaceutical version (as the study cautions) or perhaps, are profits at play here?
For information on possible dosage amount, check with your practitioner and read the following articles: http://www.treatingautism.co.uk/news/580/nac-supplement-useful-for-treating-irritability-in-children-with-autism/