There are literally thousands of options available to the average hair loss sufferer. One could fill a shopping trolley with the existing number of products but there are only a select few clinically proven treatments. For those that pull out their own hair, however, hair loss is just one of the consequences of a much more misunderstood condition, and not only is there no cure, but the range of effective treatment options is limited. However, according to a recent study, a simple nutritional supplement could provide the first medical assistance for trichotillomania.
It’s been likened to obsessive compulsive disorders and was originally thought to be a psychiatric problem, but trichotillomania is now considered a medical condition. It’s thought to arise from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, especially levels of serotonin and glutamate, a chemical that triggers excitement. A new clinical trial showed that N-acetylcysteine, a supplement that blocks production of glutamate in specific areas of the brain, benefited more than half of trichotillomania sufferers who took it.
People with trichotillomania have a compulsive urge to pluck hair from the scalp, eyebrows and lashes to the point of baldness. Approximately three to four million people world-wide are affected but no one – not even a trichotillomania sufferer – knows why the act of pulling their own hair out provides comfort. Most feel immediate shame afterwards and if they could stop they would, but for unknown reasons they can’t.
There are no approved medical treatments for the condition and previous methods have been largely unsuccessful and limited to anti-depressants and cognitive behavioural therapy. But results of a recent double-blind, placebo controlled study at the University of Minnesota, reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry, have provided hope for a new and more effective method of treatment.
Fifty trichotillomania sufferers took part in the study which spanned 12 weeks. Of the five men and 45 women (with an average age of about 34), half received 1,200 to 2,400 milligrams of the amino acid supplement daily while the other half received a placebo. Of those who received N-acetylcysteine daily, 56% reported being “much or very much improved,” compared with 16% of those taking the placebo and the improvement was noticeable after nine weeks of treatment.
Authors of the study said the supplement was “well-tolerated” but future studies should examine long-term effects.