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N-Acetyl Cysteine Treats Acute Liver Failure


A supplement good enough for reversing liver failure, learn why NAC is a worthy contender for protecting the liver.

Due to fears of instigating unknown interactions or confusing the results of any given treatment, alternative therapies are rarely permitted within the confines of Western medicine. Exceptions to this norm are most likely to be made for conditions where it has been irreversibly proven to be effective or if there are no other known medical treatments. Some people in acute liver failure who are unable to receive a liver transplant are among those for whom Western medicine has few options. Such individuals are ideal candidates for research on supplements with a track record for preserving liver health – such as N-acetyl cysteine.

N-acetyl cysteine is the stable form of the amino acid cysteine – a potent antioxidant that is commonly found in food and synthesized by the body. By helping the body synthesize glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant, N-acetyl cysteine is believed to protect the liver from adverse effects of toxins. For individuals with chronic liver disease, protecting the liver from toxins is crucial to stop their illness from progressing to advanced disease.

About Acute Liver Failure
Also known as fulminant hepatic failure, acute liver failure occurs when the liver rapidly loses its ability to function. Although liver failure usually develops slowly over the course of many years, acute liver failure develops in a matter of days. Several facts about this health crisis include:

·    Acute liver failure can cause many complications, including excessive bleeding, increasing pressure in the brain and death.

·    Requiring hospitalization, acute liver failure is a medical emergency.

·    While some causes of acute liver failure can be reversed with treatment, many cases can only be cured with a liver transplant.

A consequence of liver cells that have been damaged significantly and are no longer able to function, acute liver failure has many potential causes. A few of the more common causes include:

·    Acetaminophen (Tylenol) – An overdose of this over-the-counter drug is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the United States. Those with chronic liver disease are particularly susceptible.

·    Viruses – Hepatitis A, B and E, as well as Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex virus, are all known to cause acute liver failure.

·    Autoimmune hepatitis – A disease in which the immune system attacks liver cells, autoimmune hepatitis can also cause acute liver failure.

Although several types of acute liver failure can be reversed with swift pharmaceutical intervention, many people with fulminant hepatic failure can only be saved with a liver transplant. Unfortunately, not everyone who needs a new liver can get one.

N-Acetyl Cysteine for Acetaminophen Overdose and More
For the most common cause of acute liver failure, acetaminophen poisoning, an antidote must be administered as soon as possible to prevent liver injury. The antidote used in hospitals is N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC). This readily available antioxidant works by indirectly replenishing glutathione – which detoxifies the toxic metabolite of acetaminophen.

According to Anne M. Larson, M.D., of the University of Washington, and colleagues, N-acetyl-cysteine administered within 12 hours of ingestion of acetaminophen can prevent liver injury; however, many people may be unaware that they could benefit from N-acetyl-cysteine. With a similar thought in mind, researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center and their colleagues at 21 other institutions investigated if NAC could treat acute liver failure due to causes other than acetaminophen poisoning.

As published in the September 2009 issue of the journal Gastroenterology, the UT researchers found that acute liver failure patients in the early stages of hepatic comas who were administered NAC were nearly 2.5 times more likely to survive than those treated only with a placebo. According to Dr. William M. Lee, professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and lead author of this study, “NAC is safe, easy to administer, doesn’t require intensive care and can be given in community hospitals. NAC is an excellent treatment for non-acetaminophen acute liver failure if the disease is caught early.” Until this study, liver transplantation was the only treatment if the failure was from non-acetaminophen causes.

By combining Lee’s NAC results with Larson’s sentiments about its potential benefits, those with chronic liver disease could profit in a big way. If this commonly available antioxidant is good enough for preventing liver failure, shouldn’t it then be considered for this severe condition’s predecessor, liver damage? Already aware of NAC’s ability to protect the liver from damage, many healthcare practitioners advise their patients with chronic liver problems to supplement with NAC. Before waiting for liver disease to advance to liver failure, those with hepatic concerns are encouraged to investigate how N-acetyl-cysteine could help their liver detoxify poisons – thus preventing the need for a future liver transplant., N-Acetyl Cysteine Effective for Acute Liver Failure, Retrieved September 3, 2010, Discount Herbs & Vitamins, Inc, 2010., Acute Liver Failure, Retrieved September 3, 2010, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2010., Tylenol Liver Damage, Retrieved September 3, 2010, MedicineNet, Inc., 2010., Acetaminophen Is Leading Cause of Acute Liver Failure, Neil Osterweil, Retrieved September 3, 2010, MedPage Today, LLC, 2010., NAC effective treatment for acute liver failure, Retrieved September 3, 2010, Science Codex, 2010., Medication Effective For Acute Liver Failure In Early Stages Of Disease, Study Suggests, Retrieved September 3, 2010, ScienceDaily LLC, 2010., Medication effective for acute liver failure in early stages of disease, Retrieved September 3, 2010, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, 2010.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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