The effect of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) on human cognition – A systematic review

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Oxidative stress, neuroinflammation and neurogenesis are commonly implicated as cognitive modulators across a range of disorders. N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a glutathione precursor with potent antioxidant, pro-neurogenesis and anti-inflammatory properties and a favourable safety profile. A systematic review of the literature specifically examining the effect of NAC administration on human cognition revealed twelve suitable articles for inclusion: four examining Alzheimer's disease; three examining healthy participants; two examining physical trauma; one examining bipolar disorder, one examining schizophrenia, and one examining ketamine-induced psychosis. Heterogeneity of studies, insufficiently powered studies, infrequency of cognition as a primary outcome, heterogeneous methodologies, formulations, co-administered treatments, administration regimes, and assessment confounded the drawing of firm conclusions. The available data suggested statistically significant cognitive improvements following NAC treatment, though the paucity of NAC-specific research makes it difficult to determine if this effect is meaningful. While NAC may have a positive cognitive effect in a variety of contexts; larger, targeted studies are warranted, specifically evaluating its role in other clinical disorders with cognitive sequelae resulting from oxidative stress and neuroinflammation.

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