A simple nutritional supplement could provide the first medical assistance for compulsive hair-pullers,who often pluck hair from the scalp,eyebrows and lashes to the point of baldness.
The supplement,N-acetylcysteine,has previously been found to aid people with other compulsive disorders. A new clinical trial indicated that it benefited more than half of those who took it.
Compulsive hair-pulling,also known as trichotillomania,is marked by high level of tension. The act provides pleasure,relief or gratification to the sufferers mostly women.
Victims often suffer a reduced quality of life and difficulties in working because they refuse to be seen in public. There are no approved medical treatments for the condition,but cognitive behavioural therapy can help some patients.
The condition,like many other compulsive behaviours,is thought to arise from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain,especially levels of serotonin and glutamate,a chemical that triggers excitement. N-acetylcysteine blocks production of glutamate in specific areas of the brain.
Dr Jon E Grant of the University of Minnesota School of Medicine and his colleagues studied 50 people with the disorder,45 women and five men with an average age of about 34. Half of them received 1,200 to 2,400 milligrams of N-acetylcysteine daily while the other half received a placebo.
The team reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry that,after 12 weeks,56 per cent of those receiving the amino acid supplement reported being much or very much improved, compared with 16 per cent of those taking placebo. The improvement was noticeable after nine weeks of treatment.