If you’re among the 2 to 4 percent of people who feel compelled to tug at your hair, you may be suffering from trichotillomania. But a common antioxidant found in health food supplements may help stop the compulsive behavior, according to University of Minnesota Medical School study findings published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

“Trichotillomania is compulsive in the sense that people can’t control it,” said Jon Grant, MD, JD, an associate professor of psychiatry, and the study’s primary author. “Some people don’t even know they are doing it.”

For the study, scientists selected 50 participants, who were on average about 34 and began hair pulling by age 12.

Initially, researchers gave half the group 1,200 milligrams (mgs) of N-Acetylcysteine, an amino acid, each day for six weeks. Then, they doubled the dosage for the following six weeks.

The other half of the study group received a placebo.

Scientists found that after nine weeks, participants significantly reduced their hair-pulling episodes. By the study’s end, 56 percent of the supplement-taking group said they noticed an improvement.

Meanwhile, only 16 percent of those given a placebo said they pulled their hair less often.

N-Acetylcysteine made it easier for participants to stop their compulsive hair pulling by moderating the body’s level of glutamate, a brain chemical that causes excitement, researchers said.

Based on these findings, Grant said, this amino acid may also be able to treat other disorders, addictions and compulsive behaviors that create self-esteem issues for people.

“It’s not easy to go out in public if people are noticing your bald spots—people are really disabled by this,” Grant said. “This supplement may offer hope.”

Click here for more about how hair issues sometime create self-esteem problems for African-American women and girls.