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Dietary Supplement Eases Urge to Pull Out Hair

Q. I am desperate and hope you can help. I suffer from trichotillomania. I pull hairs constantly and this leaves little bald spots. No matter how hard I try I cannot stop.
I seem to recall hearing on your radio program this summer something about an amino acid that could calm the compulsion to pull out hair. Please tell me what that is.

A. Trichotillomania is a mysterious condition in which the victim feels an overwhelming urge to pull out hair. Stress often triggers people to pull hair from their heads, eyebrows, eyelashes or even pubic area. Physicians don’t understand what causes this problem and there is no FDA-approved treatment.
Researchers reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry (July 6, 2009) that the amino acid N-acetylcysteine could help ease trichotillomania symptoms. Subjects were randomized to either 1200 mg per day of the dietary supplement or placebo. If there was no improvement after six weeks, the dose was increased to 2400 mg per day.
The investigators concluded that, “This randomized, double-blind, clinical trial indicates that N-acetylcysteine is safe and more effective than placebo for the treatment of trichotillomania.” Although no adverse events were reported in the study, some people may experience headache, itching, flatulence, increased blood pressure or fatigue when taking N-acetylcysteine.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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