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Research finds new way to curb compulsive hair-pulling

Medical School researchers have discovered that a common antioxidant may help stop the urges of those with trichotillomania, a disorder characterized by compulsive or habitual hair-pulling to the point of noticeable hair loss.

Jon Grant, M.D., J.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and the study’s principal investigator, estimates that 2 percent to 4 percent of the general population is affected by trichotillomania to some degree. Half of the 50 people enrolled in his double-blind study were given N-Acetylcysteine, an amino acid commonly found in health food supplements, every day for six weeks. They received a larger dose for the next six weeks.

By the end of the study, 56 percent reported feeling much or very much improved, while only 16 percent taking the placebo reported less hair-pulling.

The study, published in the July issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, is one of the first to look at lowering levels of glutamate—a chemical that triggers excitement in the brain— to curb harmful compulsive behavior rather than serotonin, a naturally occurring chemical most commonly linked to compulsive behavior.

Grant believes glutamate modulators may be applicable to other disorders, addictions, and compulsive behaviors.

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