Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Personal Health: Excessive Hair-Pulling

Published on July 13, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

An aid in cases of hair pulling
A common dietary supplement containing an amino acid may help people with trichotillomania, also known as compulsive hair pulling, according to a study by researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in Minneapolis.

The amino acid N-acetylcysteine occurs naturally in the body and is sold in pill form in health-food stores.

Two to four percent of the U.S. population suffer from trichotillomania, a physically, emotionally and socially damaging condition that often coexists with other psychological disorders.

Fifty sufferers - 45 women and five men, with an average age of 34 - were randomly assigned to take 1,200 milligrams to 2,400 milligrams of N-acetylcysteine or a placebo for 12 weeks. Most were also receiving psychotherapy or psychotropic drugs.

After nine weeks, more than half of the supplement-takers reported improvement - such as reduced hair-pulling urges and fewer hair-pulling episodes - compared with 16 percent of those on the dummy pills. The positive response continued for the remaining three weeks.

The study is reported in the July issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

- Heather J. Chin

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