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.