The amino acid N-acetylcysteine seems to curb symptoms of compulsive hair-pulling in people with the psychiatric disorder known medically as trichotillomania, according to the results of a small study.
There currently is no approved treatment for trichotillomania, a condition related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Trichotillomania is characterised by the recurrent pulling out of one's hair, which results in noticeable hair loss; an increasing sense of tension immediately before pulling out the hair or when attempting to resist the behavior; and pleasure, gratification or relief when pulling out hair.
In the Archives of General Psychiatry, Dr Jon E Grant and colleagues from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, note that N-acetylcysteine has shown promise in the treatment of repetitive or compulsive disorders and acts on the glutamate system, the largest neurotransmitter system in the human brain.
This led them to study the effects of N-acetylcysteine therapy in 50 adults with trichotillomania. Twenty-five were randomly assigned to receive 1,200mg to 2,400mg of N-acetylcysteine per day for 12 weeks; the other 25 received placebo.
After 12 weeks, patients taking the active medication had significantly greater reductions in hair-pulling symptoms than those taking placebo.
"Fifty-six percent of patients 'much or very much improved' with N-acetylcysteine use compared with 16% taking placebo," the investigators report. None of the subjects on N-acetylcysteine reported any side effects.
Grant and colleagues say the magnitude of improvement seen with N-acetylcysteine was higher than that seen with other medications, and similar to that reported for "talk therapy" alone or combined with medication, suggesting that N-acetylcysteine compares favorably with existing treatment options. - (Reuters Health, July 2009)
SOURCE: Archives of General Psychiatry, July 2009.