N-acetylcysteine (NAC) - A Cure for Trichotillomania?

Nov 21st, 2014

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trichotillomania N-acetylcysteine (NAC)Trichotillomania is a BFRB (body focused repetitive behavior) disorder and one that is not very well understood by the public. If you are suffering from this hair pulling disorder, then you might feel like there is nothing out there that can help you.

Fortunately, a number of effective treatments are becoming available. While most accepted type of treatment is CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), there is a new over-the-counter supplement that is known as N-acetylcysteine (NAC) - it is a natural amino acid that has recently been shown to help treat a range of disorders – trichotillomania included.

Below is a little more information about N-acetylcysteine and a discussion of whether it might be right for you.

What is N-acetylcysteine?

An over-the-counter dietary supplement, N-acetylcysteine is a natural amino acid that helps deliver the amino acid L-cysteine to your body. L-cysteine is found in the normal diet, in low quantities, in foods that contain protein. However, taking the supplement can greatly increase the amount of L-cysteine that your brain receives.

Though its applications with trichotillomania are still relatively new, N-acetylcysteine is not a new medication. It has been used to treat conditions such as ALS, kidney disease, liver disease, and acetaminophen overdose for a long time.

The medication’s use with compulsive disorders is fairly recent with the bulk of the research being done in the past five years (its 2014 at time of writing this article). Much of this research has been focused on its applications with bipolar disorder, OCD, addiction, and impulse control disorder. It has been shown to be quite effective in most scenarios.

How Does N-acetylcysteine Work?

There is still a lot of research to be done on the relationship between N-acetylcysteine and trichotillomania. Scientists have an idea on how the supplement works to treat the disorder but nothing is completely clear quite yet. Their best hypothesis is that NAC moderates over-action in the brain, specifically in the neurotransmitter glutamate.

So far, the results for the use of N-acetylcysteine for treating trichotillomania are very positive. Anecdotal reports, in particular, state that it is very effective. The first major clinical study to research the two has likewise confirmed its efficacy.

The Major Study

The first major clinical study on N-acetylcysteine and trichotillomania was performed at the University of Minnesota.

The research group enlisted the help of 50 people with the hair pulling disorder. The researchers gave half of these people a daily dose of NAC. The other half of the people they gave a placebo. It is important to note that none of the people involved in the study knew which medication they were getting.

The study lasted for 12 weeks. At the end of the study period, it was confirmed that 56% of the patients receiving NAC had significantly reduced their hair pulling. This was compared to the 16% success rate for people receiving the placebo.

Is N-acetylcysteine Right for You?

Before selecting NAC to help treat your hair pulling disorder, it is important to first make sure that it is right for you. The number one way to do this is to visit a trich expert therapist for advice.

There are few safety concerns related to NAC. Most people tolerate and handle it very well. Some people exhibit side effects including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. However, these side effects occur very rarely.

Fortunately, N-acetylcysteine is a reasonably cheap medication for dealing with trichotillomania. Better yet, it is easy to find. It can be bought legally over the counter in pharmacies and supplement retailers, and even only through Amazon. You can find 100, 600 mg tablets for between $6 and $20.



TrichStop’s editorial team is comprised of mental health professionals who specialize in research and treatment of BFRBs (body focused repetitive behaviors) such as trichotillomania (hair pulling) disorder. You can learn more about our team here.

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