With flu season among us and recent outbreaks of the coronavirus, many of us can’t help but feel concerned for our health and that of our friends and family. While we know the basics of washing our hands, getting rest, and even supplementing with Vitamin C and zinc, few of us realize the role that certain amino acids can play. Not only can they prevent capturing viruses, but they can shorten the duration and severity of the symptoms.
Super Amino Acids
Within the diet, there are ten essential amino acids that must be obtained through eating. Then, there are conditionally essential amino acids that the body can actually produce, like N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and L-glutamine. However, under certain conditions, like illness, the body may require more than the body can produce. Therefore supplementation of these may not only be beneficial, but vital.
The Functions of NAC
Since most have probably never even heard of NAC, it’s important to really dive into what this conditionally essential amino acid does:
- Produces glutathione – N-acetyl cysteine is one of three amino acids that makes up this powerful antioxidant. Glutathione processes chemicals in the liver and aids in purifying when the body is exposed to chemicals and normal wear and tear. Without it, toxicity levels in the body would build up causing a breakdown and illness over time. Because it is so powerful at overcoming toxicity, some hospitals even use it on patients that have overdosed on medications like Tylenol.
- It’s a mucolytic – This means that NAC actually breaks mucus apart. When an individual gets a virus, one of the complications that often results is an upper respiratory infection that gets into the lungs and sinuses causing congestion and heaviness on the chest that leads to difficulty breathing and wheezing. This amino acid breaks the mucus apart and ultimately can aid patients with chronic congestion and sinus issues.
- Reduces viral replication – While it may not prevent a viral infection altogether, NAC can reduce viral replication. This, in turn, leads to a reduction in symptoms, the length of the virus, and also recurring illnesses.
The Functions of L-Glutamine
Another super amino acid, L-glutamine, also plays a major role in the health and function of the body. Its roles include:
- Producing glutathione – Like NAC, L-glutamine also makes up glutathione, which allows the body to detoxify from harmful substances and chemicals.
- Fuels lymphocytes – Another major role of L-glutamine is that it fuels lymphocytes which are specialized white blood cells that help to produce antibodies when an individual is sick. When illness strikes, an individual will tend to burn through L-glutamine more aggressively, necessitating a need for supplementation.
Dosaging of Amino Acids
When a person has a virus, he or she may be burning through about 6,000 mg of N-acetyl cysteine a day, making it challenging, if not impossible, for the body to keep up. At this point, NAC moves from a conditionally essential amino acid to an essential amino acid and supplementation is necessary. For the average adult the following dosing guidelines should be sufficient:
- 1,200-2,000mg/day for prevention
- 2,000-4,000mg/day when coming down with something
- 6,000-8,000mg/day when actually sick in bed with an illness; however, it’s best to start at the lower end as some will be able to tolerate less than others. Too much NAC can lead to nausea and an upset stomach.
Additionally, consider taking about 2-5 grams of L-glutamine per day. Again, start on the low end and build-up, as too much too quickly can cause diarrhea. Take both of these supplements thirty minutes before a meal or with a low-protein meal or snack. Eating too much protein while taking these supplements will cause the amino acids in the protein and supplements to compete for absorption.
The Effectiveness of NAC Amino Acids
On the market right now, there really are no medications to treat viral infections, only to help reduce the symptoms. Doctors will often prescribe Tamiflu to shorten the duration of illnesses like the flu, along with other antibiotics, but primarily the virus “must run its course.” Others will turn to steroids which will allow some relief initially, but really just suppresses the immune system allowing the illness to linger even longer.
Then, there is the issue of side effects. Antibiotics cause yeast overgrowth and nutritional deficiencies and steroids cause GI damage, suppress the immune system and also cause vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. With all of this, it is shocking that more doctors are not prescribing NAC. Not only does it work better than most targeted drugs, but it also works with the body to shorten the duration and symptoms of illness without the harmful side effects.
Increasing Protein Levels
In discussing these amino acids, it’s important to remember that they are the building blocks of protein which in turn are the building blocks of antibodies. Therefore, it is crucial to increase protein intake during the winter months when an illness is likely to strike. This is especially important for vegans and vegetarians who are highly susceptible during cold and flu season. As a general rule of thumb, most people need about one and a half to two grams of protein per Kg (or pounds multiplied by 2.2) per day.
This is also important to remember for the elderly. They tend to be more susceptible to illness because stomach acid decreases with age and the absorption of amino acids from protein may not be as effective. Additionally, many are on antacids which reduces the absorption and suppresses the immune system as the stomach acid which can help kill or neutralize dangerous pathogens and infectious microorganisms are further limited.
Consider Your Winter Routine
Now that you know the role that amino acids like L-glutamine and NAC play on your immune system, it may be time to rethink the steps you take to prevent illness. Supplementing just a small amount of these can make a huge impact on your health and wellbeing in the coming year. So take steps now to ensure your body is fully equipped to handle whatever virus may come your way.20