In the United States alone, around five to ten million people suffer from trichotillomania, also known as hair-pulling disorder. If you have this condition, chances are that you’ve probably tried many different approaches to curing it such as anxiety medication, antidepressants, or even hypnosis.
Unfortunately, many people affected by trichotillomania report that most forms of treatment do not result in their desired outcome of hair-pulling cessation which can be incredibly frustrating. However, one natural supplement has risen in popularity in recent years for its potential to treat this condition – N-acetyl cysteine (NAC).
It is believed that NAC can be an effective treatment for trichotillomania because it is a precursor to L-cysteine. L-cysteine is an amino acid that is converted into the antioxidant glutathione which can help treat trichotillomania as the condition’s pathophysiology involves excessive oxidative stress.
A handful of studies in adults have shown that NAC can greatly help in the reduction of hair pulling within a few weeks or months of use. In fact, some studies conducted in adults have shown that affected individuals can grow their hair back to how it was originally following treatment.
Here, I’ll explain how the body processes NAC and discuss what research shows about NAC for trichotillomania. I’ll also review what’s considered to be the optimal dosage for treatment in case you decide to try it out yourself.
Why Do People Use NAC For Trichotillomania?
Trichotillomania is a hair-pulling disorder that’s estimated to affect 1-2% of the world’s population. It can be caused by various factors including anxiety, extreme stress, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Consistent hair pulling can lead to hair loss and emotional stress.
Trichotillomania is generally treated by habit reversal therapy, counseling, support groups, hypnosis, and medication. While psychotherapy is believed to be the most effective form of cognitive treatment, NAC stands out when it comes to supplement-based treatment.
NAC is a supplemental form of cysteine that provides the body with a vital antioxidant called glutathione, which regulates inflammatory, neurotropic, and glutamatergic pathways. Since NAC helps restore the nucleus accumbens (a structure in the brain that mediates emotional and motivational processes) with the proper amount of extracellular glutamate concentration, it can help reduce the compulsivity of someone pulling their hair out. This is also supported by the fact that many people with OCD also have irregularities in their glutamatergic systems.
While there are many ways to go about trying to treat trichotillomania, NAC is a simple and straightforward treatment that is more natural than taking medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other antidepressants.
What Does Research Say About Using NAC For Trichtillomia?
While there is still more research to be done in the future on larger populations, several studies have been conducted to examine the use of NAC for trichotillomania.
In a study led by Jon E. Grant, 50 individuals with trichotillomania were brought together to help determine the efficacy and tolerability of N-acetylcysteine in adults. 5 of the adults were men while 45 were women, and they were, on average, 34 years of age. After a period of 12 weeks, 56% of patients who took 1,200 to 2,400 mg of NAC daily improved “much” or “very much” in comparison to 16% who were taking the placebo.
Another study conducted by D. Ozcan and D. Seckin investigated if NAC would make a difference in trichotillomania in 2 individuals. After regularly taking 1,200 mg of NAC per day, hair pulling subsided after 2 months and 2 weeks of use in both the 30-year-old female and 14-year-old girl.
A third study examined 39 children between the ages of 8 and 17 with pediatric trichotillomania who took either a maximum of 2,400 mg NAC daily or a placebo for 12 weeks. A significant reduction in hair-pulling was observed in 25% of those who took NAC and 21% of those who took the placebo, indicating that NAC wasn’t especially effective.
In addition to the above studies, there are a handful of studies conducted in single individuals that have shown significant improvements in hair-pulling disorder after using 1,200 mg a day for 3 weeks and 3 months. However, despite the promising results of using NAC for trichotillomania, there’s a need for future studies conducted in larger cohorts to confirm these results, especially those conducted in children.
What Is The Standard NAC Trichotillomania Dosage?
Referring to the studies mentioned above, the most common dosage of NAC that was effective for trichotillomania was 1,200 mg per day. With this dosage, some patients found relief in as little as a few weeks, while others experienced it within a few months.
Double Wood Supplements, a reputable producer of NAC, recommends for people to use two 500 mg capsules daily on an empty stomach. They say you can take up to four capsules if you need a more potent dose, but it is not recommended to go beyond 2,000 mg. Another company that produces NAC is Bulk Supplements. They suggest taking 600 mg up to three times a day or following the recommendations of a physician.
Also read our article on the best NAC supplements.
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