N-acetylcysteine for Major Mental Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2018 May;137(5):391-400. doi: 10.1111/acps.12862. Epub 2018 Feb 18.


Objective: This systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) examined the efficacy and safety of adjunctive N-acetylcysteine (NAC), an antioxidant drug, in treating major depressive disorder (MDD), bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Methods: The PubMed, Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, CNKI, CBM, and WanFang databases were independently searched and screened by two researchers. Standardized mean differences (SMDs), risk ratios, and their 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were computed.

Results: Six RCTs (n = 701) of NAC for schizophrenia (three RCTs, n = 307), bipolar disorder (two RCTs, n = 125), and MDD (one RCT, n = 269) were identified and analyzed as separate groups. Adjunctive NAC significantly improved total psychopathology (SMD = -0.74, 95% CI: -1.43, -0.06; I2 = 84%, P = 0.03) in schizophrenia, but it had no significant effect on depressive and manic symptoms as assessed by the Young Mania Rating Scale in bipolar disorder and only a small effect on major depressive symptoms. Adverse drug reactions to NAC and discontinuation rates between the NAC and control groups were similar across the three disorders.

Conclusions: Adjunctive NAC appears to be a safe treatment that has efficacy for schizophrenia, but not for bipolar disorder or MDD. Further higher quality RCTs are warranted to determine the role of adjunctive NAC in the treatment of major psychiatric disorders.

Keywords: N-acetylcysteine; bipolar disorder; major depressive disorder; oxidative stress; schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / adverse effects
  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology*
  • Antioxidants / adverse effects
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Bipolar Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic*
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy*


  • Antioxidants
  • Acetylcysteine