Amino acid targets compulsive hair pulling

Q I have suffered from trichotillomania for years, and I am desperate for some help. I just can't seem to stop pulling out my hair. I heard that there is an amino acid being used to treat this condition and hope you can tell me more.

A Trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling, can be difficult to treat. You may have heard about N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a building block for the amino acid L-cysteine. NAC is sold as a dietary supplement, but it also is used as a prescription medicine.

A double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that NAC reduced hair-pulling symptoms significantly after about nine weeks (Archives of General Psychiatry, July 2009). NAC caused no side effects in this study at doses of 1,200 to 2,400 mg per day.

Q I took Miacalcin a few years ago, and ever since then my sense of smell has disappeared. That's dangerous, since I can't smell smoke or natural gas. It also is sad that I can't smell bread baking or fresh peaches or any of those wonderful things.

It also affects my sense of taste. I can taste the basics of salty, sweet, hot and sour, but the great delight of good eating is gone. I used to be an excellent cook, but now that I can't taste, I can't season.

I feel that Miacalcin caused this loss. Has anyone else reported a similar side effect?

A Miacalcin Nasal Spray (calcitonin) is used to treat osteoporosis. Problems with the senses of taste and smell are reported in the official prescribing information. Unfortunately, when a drug affects the sense of smell, there is little that can be done to reverse the problem. This side effect should be better publicized.

Q I have slightly high cholesterol (230) but really high triglycerides (348). A friend of mine told me that when he took red yeast rice, his cholesterol dropped 50 points, but his triglycerides rose.

How important are triglycerides anyway? How can I get them down?

A Triglycerides (TG) are the way fats get packaged so they can be moved around the body. High triglycerides have long been linked to an increased risk for heart attacks, though they don't get the same attention as cholesterol.

A new 30-year study from Denmark involving almost 14,000 adults suggests that elevated triglycerides may be more important than cholesterol when it comes to stroke risk (Annals of Neurology online, Feb. 18, 2011).

Although the American Heart Association considers triglycerides levels up to 150 normal, the Danish study found the risk of stroke rose 20 percent when triglycerides went above 90. Your level is high enough to be worrisome.

Ways to lower triglycerides include: reducing carbohydrates, especially sugar; taking fish oil; eating nuts; and losing excess weight. Red yeast rice, which contains natural statins, actually appears to lower triglycerides as well as cholesterol (Circulation, Aug. 24, 2004).

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Send questions to them via

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