Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC: COVID-19 LUNG DAMAGE: New Clinical Trial

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By Steve Blechman



While virus cases surge, the coronavirus crisis has caused a severe acute respiratory syndrome posing a serious threat to the global public health. Covid-19 has killed over 500,000 people worldwide. “Almost all COVID-19 related serious consequences feature pneumonia” (Lancet May15, 2020) and many also have an inflammatory lung disease that damages the lungs called adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). “Chest CT scans of the lungs showed bilateral round glass opacities in all patients.”

On June 22, 2020 an article appeared on entitled: Lifelong Lung Damage: the Serious COVID-19 complication that can hit people in their 20s. It was reported that, “severe cases of COVID-19 can cause lasting damage to the lungs that may necessitate surgery or even organ transplants.” It also says, “while the majority of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in people who are older, fibrosis cases show even young people who survived the disease can have lasting complications.” The article goes on to say that, “a 20-year old COVID-19 survivor in Chicago had a lung transplant that was necessary to treat a condition now being called post-COVID fibrosis.” While the Chicago patient is expected to make a full recovery, this is another serious long-term effect of the virus that the public needs to be made aware of.

An article appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Saturday/Sunday June 27th-28th, 2020 entitled: The Unknown Effects of COVID-19. It mentioned that, “sports are trying to restart next month. And the people who place the highest value on their hearts, lungs, and physical conditioning will have to live with uncertainty.” The article continues to say that, “this disease’s potential to attack the lungs is particularly alarming,” University of Southern California radiologist Ali Gholamrezanezhad said. “The unexpected lung damage would lead to reduced functional capacity.” He continued to say it means that when you’re walking or sitting, you don’t have shortness of breath, but as soon as you start running, you don’t have enough oxygen. “This can happen in young people.”


When a virus particle enters your body through your nose, mouth or eyes, into your lungs, the immune system recognizes the virus and sends immune-signaling molecules called cytokines such as interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Normally these cytokines play a beneficial role by activating our innate immune response and certain white blood cells called macrophages, neutrophils and natural killer T cells that destroy and kill certain dangerous pathogens, bacteria and viruses. These white blood cells are like “killer, phagocytic Pac-Men” that release reactive oxygen species (ROS) free radicals and kill these bacteria and viruses. At the same time, these ROS free radical species damage normal tissues and cause inflammation and cell death. So, these white blood cells in fact are a two-edged sword – they kill dangerous viruses and bacteria or they can go haywire, causing severe inflammation, and cell damage in the lungs. Antioxidant supplements such as N-acetylcysteine (NAC) , vitamin C, polyphenols and selenium are potent scavengers of ROS and free radicals and help lower inflammation in the lungs and other organs and body tissues. NAC works best when combined synergistically with vitamin C and the mineral selenium. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and acts as a reducing agent and enhances the stability and function of NAC. Selenium also works with NAC by enhancing the function of glutathione in the body.


A very important new study is underway and reported by the National Institute of Health (NIH) U.S. National Library of Medicine, website entitled: A study of N-acetylcysteine in Patients with COVID-19 infection. The sponsor of this study is Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The principal investigator is Santosha Vardhana, MD, Ph.D. Memorial Sloan Kettering and researchers are a leading cancer institution and research center in the world studying how the immune system responds to cancer. Also, the role of the immune system, coronavirus and COVID-19. This report was last updated June 1, 2020. The official title of the clinical trial is: Phase II study of N-acetylcysteine in Severe or Critically Ill Patients With Refractory COVID-19 Infection, according to the website. The clinical trial started on May 1, 2020 and the estimated primary completion date is May 2021. A brief summary of the study on the website says, “the study researchers think that a medication called N-acetylcysteine can fight the COVID-19 virus by boosting a type of cell in your immune system that attacks infections, by helping your immune system fight the virus. The researchers think that the infection will get better, which could allow the patient to be moved out of the critical care unit or go off a ventilator, or prevent them from moving into a critical care unit or going on a ventilator.”

The summary continues to say, “The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved N-acetylcysteine to treat the liver side effects resulting from an overdose of the anti-inflammatory medication Tylenol® (acetaminophen). N-acetylcysteine is also used to loosen the thick mucus in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This study is the first to test N-acetylcysteine in people with severe COVID-19 infections.” The researchers involved in this important new clinical trial are looking to see if N-acetylcysteine can repair lung tissue damage in COVID-19 patients. 


N-acetylcysteine may be used in the future to improve T-cell therapeutic benefits (Cancer Res. October 15, 2015). Reactive oxygen species (ROS) free radicals cause DNA damage of T-cell lymphocytes (Immunity & Aging, February 21, 2013). T-cells (also called t-lymphocytes) are an important component of the immune system. T-cells recognize and kill virus-infected cells. “Now two studies reveal infected people harbor T-cells that target the virus -- and may help them recover,” researchers said. N-acetylcysteine may supercharge T-cells in COVID-19 patients but also lower inflammation at the same time! (Journal Science, May 14, 2020). Research has shown that young children are less likely to get sick from the coronavirus. It might be because their immune systems can produce more T-cells faster than they are destroyed and depleted.

It was recently reported on April 21, in the journal Respiratory Medicine Case Reports, that a 48-year-old woman with COVID-19 pneumonia at NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn, NY made an amazing recovery with oral and intravenous glutathione plus oral N-acetylcysteine. This was very encouraging but remember this is only a case report and does not prove cause and effect! Further randomized controlled trials are needed and published in peer-reviewed journals to prove safety and efficacy in COVID-19 patients.

N-acetylcysteine is clearly the most effective and important antioxidant, anti-inflamatory and precursor of glutathione in the lungs! I was first to launch glutathione and N-acetylcysteine as a dietary supplement to the American market over 20 years ago, during my 27 years as Head of Product Development for Twin Laboratories, Inc. (TwinLab).

Research has shown that N-acetylcysteine (1200mg/1800mg daily) is much more cost effective and efficacious than oral glutathione for raising glutathione in the lungs, liver and other tissues, and therefore the preferred dietary supplement! I have been taking N-acetylcysteine daily for over 20 years.

Research has shown that N-acetylcysteine is also a donor and activator of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in the body. It was recently reported in a review in the American Journal of Physiology, Cell Physiology, June 19, 2020 that, “hydrogen sulfide (H²S) as a novel gasotransmitter has been shown to protect against lung damage via its anti-inflammation, anti-oxidative stress, anti-viral, pro-survival, anti-aging effects.” This review proposed, “H2S as a potential defense against COVID-19. It is suggested that H2S may block SARS-CoV-2 entry into the host cell by interfering with ACE2 and TMPRSS2, inhibit SARS-CoV-2 replication by attenuating virus assembly/release, and protect SARS-CoV-2 induced lung damage by suppressing immune response and inflammation development.” Also, “it is proposed that NAC may protect COVID-19-assoicated cytokine storm and acute respiratory distress syndrome.”

N-acetylcysteine is a precursor of glutathione and as the body’s master antioxidant can improve lung function by decreasing inflammation as well as mucus in the lungs.

Air pollution, smoking, or vaping is a major source of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and free radicals in the lungs. The ROS can damage the lungs and can cause chronic obstruction pulmonary disease (COPD). A meta-analysis found that N-acetylcysteine can raise glutathione in the lungs and offers benefits in the treatments of COPD (Heart, Lung, March-April 2017). Air pollution and smoking can all increase the expression of the ACE2 receptor in the lungs that make it easier for the virus to enter the cell. “People with COVID-19 who live in the U.S. region with high levels of air pollution are more likely to die from the disease than people who live in less polluted areas, according to a new nationwide study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (May 5, 2020). People that exercise outdoors especially when exposed to air pollution from automobile exhaust may benefit from NAC supplements. NAC should be taken with vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and acts as a reducing agent and enhances the stability and function of NAC.

Recently, the Cleveland Clinic published a scientific review (June 2, 2020, Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine) entitled, What is the role of supplementation with ascorbic acid, zinc, vitamin D, or N-acetylcysteine for prevention or treatment of COVID-19? The review mentioned that zinc, vitamin D, and N-acetylcysteine (NAC) can lower proinflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF). The authors outline, “the biological plausibility, applicable clinical data and potential role of each of these agents.” The Cleveland Clinic Investigators continued to say that, “several agents intended to supplement dietary intake or indigenous molecules may have a theoretical role in preventing or treating COVID-19.” Based on their scientific review, the authors further acknowledge that “ascorbic acid, zinc, vitamin D, and N-acetylcysteine have biologic plausibility for prevention and treatment of COVID-19 and are candidates for clinical trials evaluating patients with these indications.”

In conclusion, if you have shortness of breath especially during exercise or tested positive for COVID-19, you can have your physician prescribe a simple ultrasound of your lungs to see if you have any damage or fibrosis. Unlike CT scans, ultrasound does not expose you to radiation.

Research on N-acetylcysteine and other antioxidants and immune supplements discussed and reviewed in this article is very encouraging and promising, but more well-designed randomized controlled trials published in peer-reviewed journals are needed. I like when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said last week, as the NBA prepares to start working out again getting ready for the restart of the season at the Walt Disney World campus. “My ultimate conclusion is that we can’t outrun the virus and that this is what we’re going to be living with for the foreseeable future.”

We need to learn to live with the virus, but we can’t let it control our lives. As always, I am eating very healthy, following the Mediterranean diet, and taking my immune support supplements (N-acetylcysteine, vitamin C, polyphenols, zinc, selenium, and vitamin D). As always, I am exercising daily, and coping better when dealing with daily stress with meditation and relaxation techniques. I also practice social distancing, use a face mask, and properly wash my hands. Why take a chance at my age of 67? Better safe than sorry!

©Published by from Advanced Research Media, Inc. 2020

©Reprinted with permission from Advanced Research Media, Inc.


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