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Health Benefits of L-Cysteine

What Should I Know About It?

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Updated August 02, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

L-cysteine is an amino acid commonly sold in dietary supplement form. Also found naturally in the human body, L-cysteine is available in many foods as well. Use of L-cysteine supplements is said to offer a variety of health benefits.

Health Benefits of L-Cysteine:

So far, research on the health effects of taking L-cysteine supplements is fairly limited. However, there's some evidence that L-cysteine may offer certain health benefits. Here's a look at several key findings from the available research:

1) Diabetes

Animal-based research indicates that L-cysteine may aid in the treatment of diabetes. In a 2009 study published in Free Radical Biology & Medicine, for instance, diabetic rats treated with L-cysteine experienced a significant decrease in blood sugar levels and in insulin resistance. Additionally, L-cysteine appeared to inhibit blood vessel inflammation (shown to be a key contributor to heart disease among diabetes patients).

See other natural remedies for diabetes.

2) Colitis

A 2009 study from the Dutch journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta suggests that L-cysteine shows promise in the treatment of colitis (a type of inflammatory bowel disease). In tests on pigs, scientists found that L-cysteine may help reduce colitis-associated inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

3) Free Radicals

L-cysteine may help prevent exercise-induced overproduction of free radicals (a process shown to contribute to oxidative stress). In an experiment involving 10 male basketball players, the authors of a 2007 study published in Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine determined that one week of supplementation with L-cysteine helped boost antioxidant capacity and reduce free radical production.

Common Uses For L-Cysteine

L-cysteine is touted as a natural treatment for the following health problems:

  • angina
  • cardiovascular disease
  • chronic bronchitis
  • diabetes
  • flu
  • inflammation
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • osteoarthritis

In addition, L-cysteine is said to enhance lung health in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Some proponents claim that L-cysteine can also help prevent colon cancer, boost sports performance, and promote detox.

Food Sources of L-Cysteine

There are a number of foods that contain L-cysteine, including meat, dairy products, eggs, and legumes.

Safety

Although little is known about the safety of long-term use of L-cysteine supplements, there's some concern that taking L-cysteine in combination with certain medications (such as prednisone and other drugs that suppress the immune system) may increase the potency of those medications and trigger adverse effects.

It's important to note that self-treating a chronic condition—especially a serious illness such as COPD or cardiovascular disease—and avoiding or delaying the use of standard care can have serious health consequences. If you're considering the use of L-cysteine supplements in treatment of a chronic health problem, consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen.

Where To Find L-Cysteine Supplements

Widely available for purchase online, L-cysteine supplements are sold in many natural-foods stores, drugstores, and stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Sources

Jain SK, Velusamy T, Croad JL, Rains JL, Bull R. "L-cysteine supplementation lowers blood glucose, glycated hemoglobin, CRP, MCP-1, and oxidative stress and inhibits NF-kappaB activation in the livers of Zucker diabetic rats." Free Radic Biol Med. 2009 Jun 15;46(12):1633-8.

Kim CJ, Kovacs-Nolan J, Yang C, Archbold T, Fan MZ, Mine Y. "L-cysteine supplementation attenuates local inflammation and restores gut homeostasis in a porcine model of colitis." Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Oct;1790(10):1161-9.

Parthimos T, Tsopanakis C, Angelogianni P, Schulpis KH, Parthimos N, Tsakiris S. "L-cysteine supplementation prevents exercise-induced alterations in human erythrocyte membrane acetylcholinesterase and Na+,K+-ATPase activities." Clin Chem Lab Med. 2007;45(1):67-72.

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