A new study has said that patients with compulsive hair-pulling condition reported reduced symptoms of the condition, known as trichotillomania, after taking an amino acid commonly found in health food supplements.
Dr. Jon E. Grant, who led the study with his colleagues from the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in Minneapolis, believes that the amino acid N-acetylcysteine may help stop the urges of those with the disorder.
The associate professor of psychiatry and his colleagues write: "N-acetylcysteine is an amino acid, is available in health-food stores, is cheaper than most insurance co-payments and seems to be well-tolerated. N-acetylcysteine could be an effective treatment option for people with trichotillomania."
Patients reported significantly greater reductions in hair-pulling symptoms after taking the supplement by the end of the 12-week study, and none of the partakers complained of adverse effects.
The authors said: "Fifty-six percent of patients 'much or very much improved' with N-acetylcysteine use compared with 16 percent taking placebo. Significant improvement was initially noted after nine weeks of treatment."
The researchers noted that the magnitude of improvement observed in patients taking N-acetylcysteine was higher than that seen with other medications.
Boffins also observed that the supplement affected levels of glutamate, a chemical that triggers excitement, in a specific area of the brain, making it easier for patients to halt their harmful behaviour.
The study has been published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.