Research shows that nutritional supplements may help mental health including trichotillomania. Lately I have focused on inositol and NAC as I have heard about these supplements in many trichotillomania communities with varied success.
I started taking NAC (N-acetylcysteine) about five years ago and have noticed a decrease in my urge to pull when I take it 5-6 days per week. I have gone though periods where I did not take it or did not take enough that I notice any benefit.
Currently, I take 2-600mg capsules in the morning and 2-600mg capsules in the evening, giving me a total of 2400mg of NAC. Doses between 1200-3600mg may be helpful according to this article, N-Acetylcysteine, a Glutamate Modulator, in the Treatment of Trichotillomania
I recently added inositol to increase the benefits of NAC. It is generally agreed that a large dose is needed for inositol to be effective with trich. I worked my way up to 18g per day. I do this by mixing 3 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon of inositol in water 3 times a day. I have found the Jarrow brand powder dissolves best. It is available on amazon for a reasonable price. I mix it with warm water as it dissolves better that way. You can add it to fruit juice or other sweetened drinks. I simply mix the powder with ~3 oz. of warm water and drink it plain as it has a mild sweet taste that I actually like.
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.
The maternal side of my family contains a history of severe mental illness. My maternal grandmother suffered from schizophrenia and died in a mental ward. My mother has been institutionalized repeatedly, suffering from a decades long battle with bipolar disorder.
My younger brother is a legitimate sociopath. He is not merely “dark triad.” He has actual antisocial personality disorder. He has no feelings of empathy or kindness or decency. Lacking the vision to rob banks or become a drug kingpin, he is currently free after spending 10 years in prison for shooting his one-armed drug dealer.
In other words, there’s some funny business in my DNA.
I used to get depressed and feel anxious. I never had full-on panic attacks, but I would have severe anxiety that would leave my brain spinning. My skin would break out in rashes.
I conquered this anxiety through two means, as anxiety and other mental illnesses have two components – physical and psychological.
The physical components of anxiety and depression come from a variety of sources – poor nutrition, lack of sunlight, excessive oxidative stress, high cortisol, and heavy metal poisoning.
N-Acetylcysteine (N-A-C) has been clinically proven to help treat symptoms of anxiety and depression.
N-Acetylcysteine is a powerful nootropic with still many unstudied benefits. N-A-C has been used by visionary doctors to help treat intractable depression and anxiety.
Why haven’t you heard about the magical effects of N-A-C? Simple. Go on Amazon and see how much a bottle of N-A-C costs.
My mom was on a $1,500 a month cocktail of drugs. No one would listen when I suggested they buy a $15 bottle of N-A-C. But the science is there.
See, N-acetyl cysteine for depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder–a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial(“NAC appears a safe and effective augmentation strategy for depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder.”) (PubMed.)
See also, N-acetyl cysteine as a glutathione precursor for schizophrenia–a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. (“These data suggest that adjunctive NAC has potential as a safe and moderately effective augmentation strategy for chronic schizophrenia.”) (PubMed.)
Why does N-A-C help treat depression?
Acetylcysteine is a glutathione precursor. That is, acetylcysteine is converted into glutathione.
Glutathione is an antioxidant that used by your liver to detox your body. Emergency rooms give high doses of NAC to patients that have overdosed with Tylenol.
- The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine (Amazon).
- Smash Chronic Fatigue: A Concise, Science-Based Guide to Help Your Body Heal, and Banish Fatigue Forever (Amazon).
Could mental illness be caused by toxins that your liver is unable to clear from your body, due to a glutathione deficiency?
That is not so far fetched, and in fact the cutting-edge of mental health research is on the role toxins and oxidative stress play in mental illness.
See, The efficacy of adjunctive N-acetylcysteine in major depressive disorder: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (“These data implicate the pathways influenced by NAC in depression pathogenesis, principally oxidative and inflammatory stress and glutamate, although definitive confirmation remains necessary.”) (PubMed.)
See also, The Glutathione System: A New Drug Target in Neuroimmune Disorders (“Glutathione depletion and concomitant increase in oxidative and neurological stress and mitochondrial dysfunctions play a role in the pathophysiology of diverse neuroimmune disorders, including depression, myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome and Parkinson’s disease, suggesting that depleted GSH is an integral part of these diseases.” (PudMed.)Do you know what else boosts glutathione?
- Yes, that’s right, juicing boosts glutathione.
- Drinking beet juice also boosts glutathione.
- Perhaps that is why there is considerable support for the proposition that juicing can treat depression and increase feelings of well-being.
How much N-A-C should you take?
That would be medical advice, which I don’t give. However, participants in the studies usually used between 1 and 2 grams daily.
Why take N-A-C instead of glutathione?
If N-A-C is a precursor, wouldn’t it make more sense to take glutathione directly? That seems intuitively correct. There is some evidence to suggest that N-A-C is more bioavailable than glutathione.
I personally use N-A-C because that was the compound studied. How much glutathione would one need to take to get the same benefits that one can obtain from 1 to 2 grams of N-A-C? As I don’t know, I went with N-A-C.
You are of course free to try both for yourself to see what works best.
What brand of N-A-C is best?
As the supplement industry is unregulated, I generally prefer to use use two brands of supplements – Life Extension Foundation and Jarrow.
I personally use Jarrow’s form of N-A-C Sustain, which is time released. (Amazon).
For more information on oxidative stress, nutrition, and various maladies, watch this video.
Minding Your Mitochondria