Researchers at the University of Minnesota have found that a common amino acid that is easily available as a health food supplement may help restrain pathological gamblers' addiction.
At a recently conducted trial, increasing doses of the amino acid, N-acetyl cysteine, were given to 27 people. The doses were found to have an impact on the chemical glutamate, which is often associated with reward in the brain.
At the end of the trial, it was reported that 60 percent of the participants had fewer urges to gamble. "It looks very promising," said Jon Grant, J.D., M.D., a University of Minnesota associate professor of psychiatry and principal investigator of the study.
"We were able to reduce people's urges to gamble," he added. In the first round of the study, the ones who responded well were asked to continue to participate in a double-blind study which included a testing method where neither the researcher nor subjects knew who was in the control group until the study is finished.
Out of the 16 who cleared the first test, 13 agreed to continue in the double-blind study for another six weeks. Out of them about 83 percent, reported fewer urges to gamble. Nearly 72 percent of those who took the placebo went back to gambling.
Similarly few other studies using N-acetyl cysteine have shown the ability to curb drug addictions in animals. Currently, the University of Minnesota study, which is being conducted by Grant, is investigating whether the drug could prove beneficial to methamphetamine users to help them quit.
"This research could be encouraging for a lot of addictions," Grant said. Grant said that, this pilot study is significant as this is the first to inspect the effect of a glutamate-modulating agent in the therapy for pathological gamblers.
A larger study is warranted to confirm the validity of the findings because the subjects knew beforehand that they were taking a supplement during the first phase of the study.
The research will be published in the Sept.15, 2007 issue of Biological Psychiatry.