New research has shown that antioxidant supplements could provide an important treatment for skin-picking disorder, EurekAlert reports.
Skin-picking disorder is common, with around four percent of the population believed to suffer from it. Patients scratch at their skin, sometimes causing disfiguring wounds. The injuries are also potentially fatal due to infection, because many sufferers are ashamed to seek hep.
Laboratory mice are often afflicted with the same condition; in fact it is the leading cause of preventable death in lab mice. A study led by a Stanford University School of Medicine researcher used two antioxidant supplements – N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and glutathione – to treat the mice and saw promising results.
NAC helps the brain to make antioxidants, which combat oxidative stress that causes certain cells in the brain to die or become inactive. It has been also used experimentally in people with Parkinson’s disease, autism, and cystic fibrosis.
“With NAC, almost every mouse got a little bit better,” said Joseph Garner, PhD, who is associate professor of comparative medicine and senior author of the study. “But there is a huge variability is response, anywhere from a slight improvement to complete cure, which is what you see in humans.”
NAC also took six to eight weeks before any benefits could be observed.
It is believed that glutathione may a better choice, not least because it is thought to have fewer side effects. With glutathione, 50 percent of mice responded with a full and speedy recovery. Those that got better were completely cured in two to three weeks.
“What’s exciting is that we have a compound that works,” Garner said. “It works as well as NAC. It’s clearly working differently, or at least more directly. This different response profile gives us some hope that there may be some nonresponders, or people who can’t tolerate NAC, who may be helped by glutathione.”
Although NAC worked more slowly and produced a lower percentage of fully cured mice (40), it did have some effect on all mice, whereas glutathione had zero effect on half of them.
However, the fact that promising signs have come from both supplements is very pleasing to researchers, because of how dangerous the condition is.
It “can lead to really serious disfigurement in extreme cases,” Garner explained. “People suffer in complete silence. They think they are the only one who has it, despite the fact that it’s very common, and it kills people.”
Therefore, “the sense of excitement from patients, advocates, and researchers was palpable,” he said. “This is the first new potential drug for this disorder in years.”
NAC has also been shown to be effective in treating hair-pulling disorder, a closely-related condition to skin-picking disorder, but it causes side-effects in many people, particularly gastrointestinal distress.
The next step in the research is to investigate the possibility of using intra-nasal glutathione, which can bypass the gut and liver, delivering the compound directly to the brain.
The study findings were published in the journal, PLOS ONE.