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NAC and Trichotillomania

NAC and Trichotillomania

By Fred Penzel, Ph.D.

**Please note the following: This advice is purely informational, and not in any way meant to be a substitute for treatment by a licensed physician. Do not try this, or anything else, without first consulting your physician. If your M.D. has not heard about it, refer them to the following article and let them decide:

Jon E. Grant, JD, MD, MPH; Brian L. Odlaug, BA; Suck Won Kim, MD, N-Acetylcysteine, a Glutamate Modulator, in the Treatment of Trichotillomania: A Double-blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Arch Gen Psychiatry/ VOL 66 (NO. 7), JULY 2009.

 

Over the years, it has become apparent that prescription medications, as remedies for trichotillomania (TTM), have proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. These meds have been employed since the early 1990’s, and although they may be seen to work occasionally for some individuals, research indicates that their overall effectiveness is not great for the majority of sufferers. When they do appear to work, it is most likely that they are actually helping with coexisting problems such as depression and anxiety that are impacting the pulling, but not directly causing it. The discovery of a new compound with a greater level of direct effectiveness would be considered a blessing to sufferers. If this compound were also an over-the-counter remedy, it would be even better.

This very thing was confirmed in 2009 with the publication of an article by Grant, Odlaug, and Kim in The Archives of General Psychiatry, titled “N-acetylcysteine, A Glutamate Modulator, In the Treatment of Trichotillomania.” This study, which lasted 12 weeks, investigated the use of the amino acid N-acetylcysteine (NAC) in 50 patients with TTM, and found that 56% of them were rated as improved or very much improved. A much smaller previous pilot study had also found positive results.

So what is this compound? NAC is a both a pharmaceutical drug and a nutritional supplement used primarily to treat Cystic Fibrosis, and also to treat individuals suffering from acetaminophen overdoses. In the former case, it thins mucus, making it easier for patients to cough it up, and in the latter case, has liver detoxifying effects. It has also been said to aid in the treatment of cocaine addiction. Some practitioners out there are also exploring the use of NAC in the treatment of OCD, although whether it is effective or not, is still unproven.

What exactly is NAC? NAC is a natural sulfur-containing amino acid that is a breakdown product of the amino acid L-cysteine, and is in turn broken down by the body and converted to a powerful antioxidant known as glutathione. Antioxidants can repair oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress occurs when cell metabolism produces an increased level of oxidants known as free radicals that tip the balance between themselves and antioxidants in the body. These free radicals can cause the breakdown of cells, damaging proteins, genes, and cell membranes. Substances known as antioxidants act by neutralizing free radicals, and some are produced naturally by the body. Some have theorized that hair-pulling may be the result of the effects of oxidative stress within the brain, and that NAC can help reverse this.

NAC is also what is known as a chelating agent. That is, it hastens the excretion of heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic from the body by binding to them. While this is of course, a positive benefit of taking it, it also causes the body to excrete copper, zinc and other essential minerals when used over time. Some research says this effect may be minimal, but others have suggested that it is necessary to take supplements containing copper, zinc, and other vital minerals when using NAC. Until this is settled, it is advisable to take a daily multivitamin plus minerals along with the NAC. It is often recommended to take extra vitamin C, itself an antioxidant, along with NAC, as it can also assist in raising glutathione levels. The amount of vitamin C one should take has been said to be in the range of 500 mg. per day.

As far as taking NAC itself for a BFRB, we have been using the following approach:

1. Start by taking one, 600 mg. capsule of NAC daily for the first two weeks along with a daily multivitamin plus minerals, in addition to 500 mg. of vitamin C. You will most likely not see any changes on this dosage.

2. If the NAC appears to be well tolerated, increase it to 1, 600 mg. capsule, 2x per day. Again, wait two to three weeks to see if there is any reduction in pulling activity.

3. If there are no changes, or only minimal changes in pulling, increase to 1 capsule, 3x per day, and again wait two to three weeks to see if there is any noticeable result.

4. If there is only little or no change, you can then increase to 4, 600 mg. capsules per day, and wait another two to three weeks. Take 2 capsules for one of the three daily doses, to make a daily total of four.

5. If there is still little or no change, you can increase up to what is the maximum of 5, 600 mg. capsules per day. A total of 3,000 mg. is the maximum you should take as a daily dose. Take 2 capsules for two of the three daily doses, to make a daily total of five.

6. If after 4 weeks at the maximum dosage there is still no result, then it is likely that it is not working, and can then be discontinued.

As with all medications and supplements, there are no sure things. It is ultimately all trial-and-error. We hope that NAC will help, but just keep in mind that it will not necessarily work for everyone. Remember that it was shown to be effective for about 56 percent of the subjects in the original research study.

NOTE: There are some very important precautions that should be observed when taking NAC.

1. It should be noted that there are some individuals who suffer from cystinuria, a genetic disorder that causes cysteine to build up in their urine. If levels of cysteine molecules become high enough, they clump together to form kidney stones. It is therefore recommended that those with this problem not take NAC.

 

2. In addition, NAC supplementation might increase the side effects associated with nitroglycerin and isosorbide, two medications commonly used to treat angina.

 

3. Using NAC at the same time as the hypertension drugs ACE-inhibitors might cause blood pressure to drop too low. It might also excessively strengthen the actions of immunosuppressant drugs.

 

 

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 23 June 2013 15:40
 

Disclaimer

Please Note: Then information in this site is presented as a public service to our patients and friends. It is not a substitute for a careful evaluation by a qualified mental health professional.  If you are already under treatment, do not make any changes in your regimen without consulting your doctor.

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