On Chronic Illness

   People fall sick in different ways, but recover in the same way.  Chronic illness can be understood as an impairment of the normal regenerative turnover of the body, a broadly similar biological sequence which takes place across all tissues and systems and illnesses.  

   In this stereotyped healing sequence an initial injury is followed with inflammation and then growth.  Following the initial inflammation, growth can proceed in either of two directions:  it may differentiate into healthy tissue (which is characterized by responsiveness to the overall goals and intent of the organism)  or lose differentiation (which is characterized by scarring, sclerosis, hypertrophy, blockage, restriction, clot, obesity, and cachexia).   The psychological disturbances of anxiety, repetitive, obsessive, or self-injurious behavior may be seen as broadly similar responses.

      When you sit down on a chair and it unexpectedly crashes beneath you, a series of involuntary nervous and hormonal and immune responses occur.  You feel a surge of alarm.  Without thinking about it, you throw your hands out to block your fall.  Your heart pounds, blood vessels squeeze tight, blood pressure shoots up,  breathing quickens, and blood thickens in preparation for possible blood loss.  Initially there is a catabolic release of glucose and amino acids from liver and brain for emergency use under the hormonal and neuronal stress signals.

 These stress signals are adaptive, and even healthy, when limited in time and severity and allowed to be followed by rest, restoration, coordinated useful activity,  healing, and healthy regrowth.  When stress is chronic, (often first evident by inability to sleep deeply due to unchecked stress reaction at night), stress will progressively induce the tissue changes that characterize the problems our population is plagued with;  hypertension, obesity, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and is at least to some extent a journey down the road toward autonomous tissue growth which is called cancer.

    This stress and healing cycle involves coordinated psychic, neuronal, hormonal, immune, and musculoskeletal systems.  All wheels, however, need energy to turn, and that energy is generated from the electron transport chain https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electron_transport_chain.  

    The substance that carries the electron- and which must be restored when the wheel turns- is the "antioxidant" glutathione.  

    The health care industry has been trying to find a way to sell glutathione for many years (liposomal glutathione, IV glutathione, etc.) without being able to demonstrate that such approaches last more than a few hours or have any clinical benefits. A major breakthrough in the Baylor study was the demonstration that oral administration of the inexpensive precursors of glutathione (glycine and cysteine as N-acetyl cysteine) led to stable and youthful levels- not elevated levels- of glutathione over four months- and the increased levels were accompanied by clinical benefits.

    In addition to the chronic disease of aging, the use of GlyNAC needs to be studied as a treatment for each chronic disease at any age.    But given the known safety of these amino acid supplements, and their demonstrated ability to raise glutathione to healthy levels in aged patients, I now believe a thoughtful approach to any chronic  condition would be to try GlyNAC  first,  for 4 weeks, and if there is any improvement continue for four months, enough time to evaluate a healing response if one is going to occur.


      UnChronic is a noncommercial site (we don't provide personal recommendations or sell anything) and you can refer your physician or friends for their own use.  The contents of this blog are personal opinions and do not represent medical advice


    I have used this approach in the clinic with some apparent success for migraine, long Covid, POTS, chronic fatigue, irregular menses, musculoskeletal pain, chronic sinusitis,  insomnia, anxiety, GERD, IBS, ulcers, constipation, diarrhea, fatty liver disease, minor degrees of hypothyroidism, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.  This list is not a medical recommendation, it is just to illustrate the generality of problems one might consider as potential applications for the supplements.  


The Recipe Update:  I now recommend using the powders. They are less expensive, don't contain fillers, and the taste is acceptable to most.  The Nutricost NAC powder comes with a scoop that measures 1.2 grams, and I use three scoops twice daily.  I use the same scoop to measure an equivalent amount of glycine powder from the 2.2 pound bag.  These go into a glass and are taken with water.  You can also use juice and seltzer water to taste.

The NAC is pretty tart;  if you prefer you can substitute the Life Extension NAC capsules but they contain a lot of additives.  If you prefer capsules Life Extension has glycine capsules.  Smaller doses have not been studied as well but may be helpful.  You could try cutting down to once daily dosing after a few months of stability.

    Some patients with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome are using additional glycine and substituting that for sugar in their sugar bowl and in cooking.  Glycine can be used freely up to three tablespoons/daily.  If you use glycine in place of sugar watch for possible need to reduce diabetes and hypertension medications.