Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness that affects almost 3% of Americans. It does not discriminate; it is said that several celebrities have come out to talk about their struggles with OCD from soccer legend David Beckham to superstar Justin Timberlake.
Several treatments have been studied for OCD with positive effects. Continue reading to learn more about OCD and what you can do to help yourself or a loved one who suffers from it.
- What Is OCD?
- Causes of OCD – What Is Going On in the Brain of Someone with OCD?
- Neurotransmitters, Inflammatory Biomarkers, and Hormones Are All Involved in OCD
- 1) Glutamate Is Increased and GABA Decreased in the Brains of OCD Patients
- 2) Low Serotonin May Cause OCD
- 3) High Dopamine May Lead to OCD
- 4) Sex Hormones Affect Serotonin and Decrease OCD Symptoms
- 5) Hormone Levels Associated with the HPA Axis Are Elevated in Patients with OCD
- 6) Decreased Inflammatory Biomarkers Causes OCD Symptoms
- Is OCD Genetic?
- OCD Has Limited Risk Factors
- Symptoms and Diagnosis of OCD
- Mainstream Behavioral Treatments for OCD
- Mainstream Drug Treatments for OCD and Their Limitations
- Less Traditional Drugs for the Treatment of OCD
- 1) Memantine Blocks Glutamate Transmission in the Brain
- 2) Ketamine Relieves Obsessions in Adults with OCD
- 3) Ondansetron Can Augment Fluoxetine in OCD Treatment
- 4) Mirtazapine Decreases Symptoms of OCD
- 5) Pregabalin and Gabapentin Help to Alleviate Symptoms of OCD
- 6) Mood Stabilizers (Lamotrigine and Topiramate) Decrease Negative Symptoms in OCD
- 7) Amphetamines May Be Beneficial for Short-Term OCD Treatment
- 8) Clonazepam Decreases Anxiety in OCD Patients
- 9) Opioids May Have an OCD Benefit (If Used Carefully)
- 10) Riluzole Decreases Symptoms of OCD
- More Invasive (Highly Questionable) Treatments for OCD
- Natural and Alternative Treatments for OCD
- 1) Inositol May Improve Anxiety and Depression in OCD
- 2) N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) May Improve OCD Symptoms
- 3) Glycine Is Helpful for Relieving OCD Symptoms
- 4) Caffeine Helps Improve OCD Symptoms with Minimal Side Effects
- 5) Milk Thistle Decreases Symptoms of OCD
- 6) Borage Oil Decreases Anxiety in OCD Patients
- 7) The Probiotic Bifidobacterium Longum Is Helpful for OCD Symptoms
- 8) Zinc Inhibits Neurotransmission and Decreases Obsessions When Used with Fluoxetine
- 9) Iron Supplementation May Reduce Symptoms of OCD
- 10) Manganese and Calcium Chelation Improves OCD Symptoms
- 11) Music As Adjunctive Therapy Is Beneficial to Decrease Symptoms of OCD
- 12) St. John’s Wort Helps OCD
- Mind-Body Interventions Help OCD Patients
- Potential Natural Treatments Lacking Clinical Evidence
- 1) Supplements to Increase GABA and Reduce Glutamate Help with OCD Symptoms
- 2) Vitamin D Deficiency Is Common in OCD Patients
- 3) Magnesium Is Lower in OCD Patients
- 4) Light Therapy Might Help with OCD
- 5) Nicotine Might Relieve OCD Symptoms
- 6) Tryptophan or 5-HTP May Be Beneficial for OCD
- 7) Bacopa Decreases the Stress Hormone Cortisol
- 8) Cannabidiol Reduces Anxiety
- 9) Pregnenolone, a Neurosteroid, May Decrease OCD Symptoms
- 10) Acupuncture May Improve Symptoms of OCD
- People’s Experiences with OCD Treatments
- Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick
What Is OCD?
OCD is a common and often chronic mental disorder that affects up to 2 to 3% of adults and up to 1% of children [R].
The OCD Cycle: Obsessions (repetitive thoughts) and compulsions (repetitive actions) characterize OCD. The disorder begins with an obsession that leads to anxiety, which then leads to compulsions to relieve this anxiety [R].
This image represents this repetitive loop:
The obsessions and compulsions can be unique to each individual. Four to five symptom clusters are common, and each has its associated compulsions [R]:
- Symmetry obsession
- Contamination and cleaning obsessions
- Aggressive, sexual, and religious obsessions
- Hoarding obsessions
Around 30 to 50% of individuals with OCD are often diagnosed before the age of 10. There may be a difference between childhood and adult onset OCD. However, there is no definite explanation for this hypothesis [R, R].
Causes of OCD – What Is Going On in the Brain of Someone with OCD?
OCD is the dysfunction of the cortico-striato-thalamo-cortical (CSTC) circuit, which is summarized in the following image [R]:
Patients with OCD have a disproportionately high blood cortisol level (stress hormone). The vulnerability of OCD patients to chronic stress causes significant changes in goal directed behaviors, abilities to interact with the environment, and decision-making skills [R].
It is often necessary to try more than one therapy before finding an effective treatment.
Neurotransmitters, Inflammatory Biomarkers, and Hormones Are All Involved in OCD
1) Glutamate Is Increased and GABA Decreased in the Brains of OCD Patients
Without SLC1A1, mice had significantly less GABA and increased glutamate transmission in the CSTC. They exhibited OCD behaviors such as compulsive leaping, variation in grooming patterns and tics [R].
After injecting ketamine, a substance that blocks glutamate receptors, patients had a rapid reduction in OCD symptoms [R].
There was also an increase in GABA which was positively correlated with the resolution of OCD symptoms [R].
2) Low Serotonin May Cause OCD
3) High Dopamine May Lead to OCD
In an animal study, mice with high dopamine have stronger and more rigid grooming behaviors than normal mice [R].
Another study found that quinpirole, which increases dopamine release, led to significant increases in compulsive behavior in rats [R].
4) Sex Hormones Affect Serotonin and Decrease OCD Symptoms
Estrogen and progesterone affect neurotransmission in the brain. They enhance serotonin transmission, which decreases symptoms of OCD [R].
Fluctuations of these hormones (ex. during reproductive events) cause changes in OCD symptoms. Women with OCD were surveyed about these changes and 49 reported an increase in symptoms during the premenstrual period and 9 during the menopause. During pregnancy, 17 reported worsening of symptoms and 11 patients reported improvement [R].
Testosterone is lower in men with OCD than those without OCD.
5) Hormone Levels Associated with the HPA Axis Are Elevated in Patients with OCD
The hyperactivity of the HPA axis, which is seen in OCD patients, causes an increase in the release of certain brain hormones. These include corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol [R].
Elevations of these hormones cause a stress response, which leads to the release of inflammatory biomarkers [R].
6) Decreased Inflammatory Biomarkers Causes OCD Symptoms
OCD patients have lower blood concentrations of inflammatory biomarkers (TNF-alpha and IL-6). The decrease of these biomarkers causes increased activity of the HPA axis (a system that controls stress and body functions) and norepinephrine which leads to an increased stress response [R].
One study showed that TNF-alpha and IL-6 blood levels were significantly decreased when patients with OCD experienced an aversive situation 30, 60, and 120 minutes after exposure [R].
The increased susceptibility of patients with OCD to fluctuations in these biomarkers suggests that the immune system is involved [R].
Is OCD Genetic?
Research supports that OCD is often inherited and passed down within families [R].
Of 18 studies following families with adults with OCD, 16 determined that OCD was familial [R].
A meta-analysis that included 24,161 identical and fraternal twin pairs found that both genetic and environmental factors are important in the development of OCD [R].
- If you have a family member with adult onset OCD, you are two times more likely to develop OCD than the other people without a family member with the OCD.
- If you have a family member with childhood-onset OCD, you are 10 times more likely to develop OCD than those not related to someone with OCD [R].
In childhood onset OCD, 40 to 65% of symptoms are inherited. In adult onset OCD, 27 to 47% are inherited [R].
OCD Has Limited Risk Factors
1) Infection During Childhood Is a Risk Factor for OCD
A pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with Streptococcus (PANDAS) can lead to compulsions, tics, or other psychiatric symptoms. This occurs in children who develop rheumatic fever or Sydenham’s chorea (usually after a Streptococcus infection) [R].
Pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome (PANS) includes cases where Streptococcus is not involved and metabolic disorders or environmental factors are the triggers [R].
Individuals with PANDAS or PANS develop autoimmune antibodies to specific parts of their brain (basal ganglia). These antibodies cause inflammation of the basal ganglia neurons. This weakens the blood-brain barrier and other antibodies can leak into the brain, which leads to the symptoms of OCD [R].
2) Having Other Psychiatric Illnesses Is a Risk Factor for OCD
Individuals with other psychiatric illnesses are at a higher risk for OCD [R].
Those who experienced abuse, either physical or sexual, or trauma in childhood are at an increased risk as well [R].
Tourette syndrome, which causes tics in individuals, is linked to patients with OCD and ADHD [R].
Some studies target the intensity of Tourette syndrome-induced tics to judge the resolution of OCD symptoms.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of OCD
Diagnosing OCD can be difficult because individuals often feel shame and are secretive about their symptoms [R].
The staging of the disorder is:
Obsession → anxiety → compulsion → relief [R]
Various obsessions include:
- Pathologic doubt
- Superstition and symmetry
These symptoms are internalized by the individual and then they present themselves as compulsions [R].
- An individual who is obsessed with dirt/germs will have compulsive behaviors like washing or cleaning rituals
- A person who is obsessed with symmetry and exactness will have compulsive behaviors like ordering and arranging
- A person with sexual or self-control obsessions will avoid situations that trigger the thoughts. They have mental rituals that they employ to counteract these thoughts or isolate themselves [R]
Compulsions may not be as obvious as these examples. Most often, individuals have mental rituals, which they are reluctant to report due to stigma or embarrassment [R].
Mainstream Behavioral Treatments for OCD
1) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Allows Patients to Cope with OCD
CBT has proven to be an effective method for treating OCD [R].
In a meta-analysis of 16 RCTs with 756 participants total, the scientists saw a large effect size for both adults and adolescents who underwent CBT. This means that when all the studies were pooled, CBT was positively correlated with the resolution of OCD symptoms [R].
2) The Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Method Significantly Reduces OCD Symptoms
With ERP, a patient is first exposed to triggers and then should learn skills to stop the compulsions. The exposures can be images or descriptions that are read repeatedly to desensitize patients from their obsessions. By addressing both obsessions and compulsions, ERP has been proven to be more effective than addressing either one alone [R].
Mainstream Drug Treatments for OCD and Their Limitations
Note: SelfHacked is not endorsing that our readers take any drugs. We are just posting this because we think it’s interesting to know what the mainstream and drug treatments are and if they are effective. Our philosophy is to try more natural/safe treatments before using drugs or less safe treatments.
1) Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) Are Currently the First Line Treatments for OCD
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the first line treatments for OCD because they have fewer side effects [R].
One in five patients who take SSRIs for OCD has at least a 25% reduction in symptoms compared to placebo. Most people respond to SSRIs after six weeks; however, it is recommended to try the medication for at least eight to twelve weeks to have an effect. Evidence suggests that in order to avoid relapse, about six to twelve months of therapy is necessary [R].
Each SSRI works slightly different from the other, therefore therapy is individualized to each patient’s characteristics. For example, fluoxetine may be preferred in those who forget to take their medication daily since it lingers in the body for weeks [R].
Overweight patients would benefit from either fluoxetine or sertraline since they are both associated with the lowest weight gain [R].
Citalopram can increase the risk of heart abnormalities with daily doses of over 20 mg. A recent study disproved this elevated risk to the heart; however, if an individual is suffering from heart issues, it may be in his/her best interest to avoid citalopram and use a safer SSRI [R].
A recent meta-analysis showed that high doses of SSRIs were associated with greater efficacy than low or medium doses [R].
There are limitations to SSRIs. They often do not completely resolve all symptoms of OCD, and they have a two to three month lag time to achieve their full effect [R].
Of note, all antidepressants have an FDA issued black box warning for a potential to increase suicidal thoughts when starting antidepressants. It is important to contact a medical provider if this occurs [R].
There are also side effects involved with SSRIs that can be remembered as the 7 S’s:
- Stomach upset (nausea)
- Sleep disturbances
- Sexual dysfunction
- Stress (mostly agitation)
- Serotonin syndrome (caused by too much serotonin usually presents as an intense headache, flushing, muscle rigidity and diarrhea – rare)
- Size increase (weight gain)
- Suicidal thoughts
Similar symptoms may also occur as during withdrawal when discontinuing SSRIs [R].
2) Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCA) Were the First Treatments for OCD
Clomipramine is a TCA and FDA-approved drug for OCD. It blocks the reuptake of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine [R].
Clomipramine has fallen out of favor because there are drugs that are more effective and have fewer side effects. However, if a patient does not respond to any oral therapy, clomipramine is effective when administered intravenously [R].
Less Traditional Drugs for the Treatment of OCD
1) Memantine Blocks Glutamate Transmission in the Brain
Memantine, a medication used for Alzheimer’s disease, blocks NMDA receptors, which reduces glutamate’s effects in the brain.
In a study (DB-RCT) on 38 patients, fluvoxamine (SSRI) + memantine was compared to fluvoxamine + placebo in patients with moderate to severe OCD. Approximately 89% of the patients in the memantine group patients no longer had OCD symptoms after eight weeks compared with 32% in the placebo group [R].
2) Ketamine Relieves Obsessions in Adults with OCD
Ketamine blocks glutamate receptors (NMDA). In a DB-RCT, 15 untreated adults with OCD received an infusion of either salt water or ketamine. There were reports of significant improvement in obsessions after the ketamine infusion and 50% still maintained this improvement one week later [R].
3) Ondansetron Can Augment Fluoxetine in OCD Treatment
Ondansetron is helpful for nausea by blocking certain serotonin receptors. In an eight-week pilot study, ondansetron + fluoxetine was compared to placebo + fluoxetine. There was a significant decrease in symptoms in the ondansetron group versus the placebo group [R].
4) Mirtazapine Decreases Symptoms of OCD
Mirtazapine is an atypical antidepressant, which increases serotonin in the brain differently from SSRIs. A 12-week study compared mirtazapine alone to placebo alone in 15 treatment experienced and 15 treatment naive patients.
Independent of other disease states, mirtazapine outperformed placebo significantly in decreasing symptoms by about 20% [R].
5) Pregabalin and Gabapentin Help to Alleviate Symptoms of OCD
Gabapentin and pregabalin are used for nerve pain and as anticonvulsants to prevent seizures. They are structurally similar to the neurotransmitter GABA, and are thought to potentiate GABA’s effects [R, R].
One study did show that gabapentin + SSRIs was better at alleviating early symptoms of OCD than an SSRI alone [R].
A case series of 12 patients also showed that OCD therapy with pregabalin reduced symptoms by 26%. The only side effects were dizziness and fatigue [R].
6) Mood Stabilizers (Lamotrigine and Topiramate) Decrease Negative Symptoms in OCD
Lamotrigine and topiramate both inhibit the actions of glutamate and have been studied as adjunctive agents for OCD.
A study of 41 OCD patients who failed their first trial of an SSRI were given topiramate or placebo with an SSRI. There was a 32% decrease in OCD symptoms in the topiramate group and only a 2.4% decrease in symptoms in the placebo group [R].
Although this seems promising, there is very little evidence for topiramate, and it does have adverse effects in the brain such as paresthesias (abnormal burning or prickling sensation) [R].
Lamotrigine decreases symptoms of observable obsessions and compulsions when used along with an SSRI. The main adverse events included headaches and skin rash. Lamotrigine can cause a deadly hypersensitivity reaction in the form of a rash called Stevens-Johnsons Syndrome (SJS), so it is important to monitor closely [R, R].
7) Amphetamines May Be Beneficial for Short-Term OCD Treatment
Stimulants may have a role in the treatment of OCD, especially with co-occurring ADHD. In an RCT, a single dose of d-amphetamine had short term benefits in resolving OCD symptoms [R]
In another study, d-amphetamine was compared to caffeine and both compounds rapidly improved OCD symptoms within a week [R].
8) Clonazepam Decreases Anxiety in OCD Patients
Many people regret going on benzodiazepines because they build up tolerance quickly and are hard to stop, so this is something you need to be very cautious about.
Clonazepam, clonidine, and clomipramine (TCAs) were compared to the control diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Roughly 40% of patients whose symptoms were not resolved with clomipramine had a clinically significant response to clonazepam [R].
Clonazepam may be helpful in relieving symptoms of anxiety, but, it should be used with caution in patients with previous benzodiazepine or other substance abuse histories [R].
9) Opioids May Have an OCD Benefit (If Used Carefully)
Naloxone, an opioid receptor blocker, exacerbated symptoms of OCD, while tramadol, which activates opioid receptors, relieved OCD symptoms [R].
10) Riluzole Decreases Symptoms of OCD
Riluzole, which is used in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), decreases the neurotransmission of glutamate [R].
Riluzole + SSRIs has been shown to be effective at decreasing symptoms significantly in patients with treatment-resistant OCD [R].
More Invasive (Highly Questionable) Treatments for OCD
1) Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) Decreases Signs and Symptoms of OCD
rTMS introduces a magnetic field pulse to the brain, which affects neuronal activity [R].
A meta-analysis published of 10 RCTs included 282 subjects with OCD. About 35% for the group receiving active rTMS had a decrease in symptoms, versus 13% for those receiving sham rTMS [R].
The short-term side effects were localized pain, burning, or prickling sensation (paresthesia), hearing changes, thyroid stimulating hormone and blood lactate level changes, and hypomania ( a mild form of mania).
In rare instances, high-frequency rTMS can cause seizures [R].
2) Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) As a Last Resort
There have been some case studies of an invasive strategy where electrodes are surgically implanted in the brain and then send localized electric impulses [R].
The average overall response rate to DBS is about 50%. The studies reported limited side effects and concluded that DBS was relatively safe [R].
However, other adverse events have been reported, including [R]:
- Bleeding in the brain (without symptoms)
- Seizure (one case report)
- Superficial infection
- Worsening of depression
- Worsening of OCD
- Short-term sadness
- Short-term anxiety
- Short-term euphoria or giddiness
3) Ablative Neurosurgery Alleviates Symptoms of OCD
With the new technology, surgical procedures are highly accurate thus have minimal adverse effects. Currently, there are two ablative surgical procedures offered, each creates lesions on a specific part of the brain which alters brain circuitry [R].
Natural and Alternative Treatments for OCD
At SelfHacked, we think that natural and safer treatments are the best place to start when biohacking OCD.
1) Inositol May Improve Anxiety and Depression in OCD
Inositol, a component of cell membranes, is involved in cell communication and also increases the sensitivity of serotonin receptors [R].
Although the scientific data is limited, many people report positive effects with inositol, including in children (see the bottom of the post).
The benefits of trying inositol appear to outweigh the risks.
2) N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) May Improve OCD Symptoms
A 12- week study of 50 patients diagnosed with trichotillomania (hair pulling; which is on the OCD spectrum) compared 1200 to 2400 mg of NAC to placebo. About 56% of the patients were found to be “much or very much improved” compared with only 16% of the placebo group [R].
Nausea is a common adverse effect; however, no adverse effects were reported in this study. NAC has a benefit that medical professionals are familiar with it, since it is often used in the medical setting, and it appears to be relatively safe in pregnancy [R].
NAC appears to be beneficial in OCD and with low risk.
3) Glycine Is Helpful for Relieving OCD Symptoms
In a 12-week study, 24 OCD patients were given 60 grams of glycine or placebo daily along with their regimen. Ten patients dropped out of the study due to bad taste and nausea with the glycine. Overall, there was a minor decrease in OCD symptoms [R].
It’s probably best to experiment with 10 grams or less to reduce side effects (nausea), and it might still help. Glycine is healthy and has very low risk, so it’s worth the experimentation.
4) Caffeine Helps Improve OCD Symptoms with Minimal Side Effects
In a five-week double blind trial with 24 patients, 300 mg of caffeine or 30 mg dextroamphetamine were added to their current OCD regimen. OCD symptoms decreased by 55% in caffeine group vs, and 48% in the dextroamphetamine group. All patients completed the study without adverse events [R].
5) Milk Thistle Decreases Symptoms of OCD
In one eight-week long RCT, 35 patients were given 200 mg milk thistle three times daily or 10 mg fluoxetine three times daily. Fluoxetine proved to be more effective than milk thistle, however they both significantly decreased symptoms of OCD [R].
Milk thistle did prove to be almost as good as an SSRI with minimal side effects (decreased/increased appetite, sexual dysfunction, tremor, nausea, headache, sweating, heart pounding, insomnia). It appears to be safe and effective for OCD.
6) Borage Oil Decreases Anxiety in OCD Patients
Borage is a plant whose flower and oil are both used for OCD. It has anti-anxiety effects similar to benzodiazepines (ex. Valium) in mice models [R].
A six-week trial was conducted on 44 patients who received either 500 mg daily of borage extract or placebo. At week four and six, the borage group and significantly reduced OCD symptoms and a decrease in anxiety [R].
However, borage may cause liver toxicity, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, worsening of asthma and may be harmful in pregnancy. It is not an optimal choice, especially in patients with liver damage or who are pregnant [R, R].
7) The Probiotic Bifidobacterium Longum Is Helpful for OCD Symptoms
Changes in the gut bacteria have been linked with anxiety disorders and OCD specifically. Mice that were administered probiotics for 30 days and then injected with a substance that induces OCD symptoms exhibited fewer symptoms than the mice injected with salt water saline [R].
A study was done in 25 healthy subjects (without OCD and had low urine cortisol levels) where clinicians assessed the subjects for stress, anxiety, obsessive compulsive behavior, and paranoid ideation using surveys. After 30 days, the group which took Bifidobacterium longum (a probiotic) daily scored lower on these surveys than they did prior to starting the probiotic [R].
8) Zinc Inhibits Neurotransmission and Decreases Obsessions When Used with Fluoxetine
An eight-week study conducted on 23 OCD patients compared zinc + fluoxetine to placebo + fluoxetine. The zinc group decreased obsessions and compulsions over eight weeks faster and with greater effect without an increase in adverse effects [R].
9) Iron Supplementation May Reduce Symptoms of OCD
Blood iron levels in patients with mild and moderate OCD are between 41-44% lower than non-OCD patients [R].
Low iron is correlated with higher tic severity in Tourette syndrome. A study showed that iron supplementation decreased the severity of tics over six to twelve months. Since there is a relation between Tourette syndrome and OCD, iron supplementation may help for OCD [R].
10) Manganese and Calcium Chelation Improves OCD Symptoms
Normal calcium blood levels are required in OCD because calcium is necessary for cellular communication, and calcium levels affect the clinical response to SSRIs [R].
Carnosine is a gentle and healthy anti-aging supplement to help chelate extra minerals.
11) Music As Adjunctive Therapy Is Beneficial to Decrease Symptoms of OCD
Music therapy helped to alleviate symptoms of obsession and anxiety in 30 patients who were all already being treated for OCD. The effects were seen in one month, suggesting that music therapy may be helpful as a more acute therapy [R].
12) St. John’s Wort Helps OCD
St. John’s Wort (SJW) is well-known as an alternative treatment for various psychiatric conditions. It acts as a monoamine reuptake inhibitor, therefore blocking the breakdown of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, and it also increases the sensitivity of receptors in the brain to neurotransmitters [R].
There are mixed results in the few trials studying SJW in OCD. Therefore conclusions may not be drawn on the efficacy of SJW in OCD yet [R].
*It is important to note that SJW does interact with several other common medications and can increase the risk of bleeding, therefore it is important you consult with your healthcare provider if you are considering initiating this treatment [R].
Mind-Body Interventions Help OCD Patients
1) Meditation Reduces Anxiety and May Be Helpful for OCD
Mindfulness meditation is thought to help individuals with anxiety by helping them mentally avoid their triggers. A pilot study with 17 participants showed a reduction in OCD symptoms in patients who partook in mindfulness meditation [R].
2) Exercise Showed Positive Short-Term Effects in OCD Patients
Two small studies have assessed the effects of exercise on participants stabilized on OCD therapy. One study found that a regular walking exercise reduced OCD symptoms at six weeks and a month later [R].
The next study found that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise significantly reduced obsessions and compulsions at the end of the first week but not at the end of week 12 [R].
Due to the lag time of many medications, acute therapies are just as essential as chronic therapies.
Potential Natural Treatments Lacking Clinical Evidence
Reducing anxiety may be a beneficial approach to eliminating symptoms of OCD. Read our post on the Top 31 Natural Treatments for Anxiety for more information.
1) Supplements to Increase GABA and Reduce Glutamate Help with OCD Symptoms
2) Vitamin D Deficiency Is Common in OCD Patients
Children with OCD are more likely to have vitamin D deficiency and of those, there is a higher rate of ADHD [R].
One case report of a 7-year-old boy had vitamin D deficiency and took 800 IU a day along with his SSRI for OCD. His cleaning obsessions were almost resolved after one month; after four months most symptoms of OCD resolved [R].
Vitamin D is necessary for overall health, it is difficult to overdose, and has minimal adverse effects. Therefore, it’s a good option to try for OCD.
3) Magnesium Is Lower in OCD Patients
Magnesium levels are lower in patients with OCD and magnesium deficiency has been linked to increased excitatory neurotransmission. Studies suggest that magnesium supplementation may be helpful in Tourette syndrome, which is often linked with OCD [R, R].
4) Light Therapy Might Help with OCD
A single case report exists of a woman who developed OCD during the winter season. She also had seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Light therapy was an effective treatment for SAD and doctors prescribed 30 minutes of light therapy for five days. After two weeks, the woman felt a noticeable difference and no longer had symptoms of obsession [R].
5) Nicotine Might Relieve OCD Symptoms
In a series of five case studies of non-smoking individuals, nicotine patches helped to relieve symptoms of OCD. The results varied between patients, therefore it is difficult to draw any conclusions. Given the risks of nicotine use, the risks and benefits should be evaluated prior to initiating this treatment [R].
6) Tryptophan or 5-HTP May Be Beneficial for OCD
Tryptophan is the precursor to 5-HTP, which is the precursor to serotonin. Either tryptophan or 5-HTP supplementation may help to relieve symptoms of OCD by increasing serotonin. 5-HTP can more easily cross the blood brain barrier than tryptophan and has evidence in the treatment of depression and anxiety [R, R].
7) Bacopa Decreases the Stress Hormone Cortisol
Patients with OCD may benefit specifically from bacopa because they have chronically elevated cortisol [R].
8) Cannabidiol Reduces Anxiety
9) Pregnenolone, a Neurosteroid, May Decrease OCD Symptoms
Pregnenolone potentially has neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties in the brain. In both major depressive disorder and schizophrenia, pregnenolone levels are either altered or decreased. Pregnenolone can also activate both glutamate and GABA receptors, which has shown to regulate behavior [R].
Although no clinical studies using pregnenolone in OCD exist, given its properties, it could be beneficial in patients with OCD [R].
10) Acupuncture May Improve Symptoms of OCD
People’s Experiences with OCD Treatments
Experiences with Treating OCD in Children
“…we started N-acetylcysteine with my son. It was not a consistent immediate response for him and improvement increased over time even after we reached our twice a day dose. For the last few months, my son has been, for all intents and purposes, free of any life impeding symptoms. I rarely saw any hint of OCD and, even then, the anxiety level associated is almost nothing for him. I’m not sure he would even be able to be diagnosed as he is now” [R].
“…We tried Inositol but I don’t think we gave it enough chance and things deteriorated so quickly that we resorted to Zoloft. It’s been a year now, and although much better, my son is definitely NOT symptom-free by any means. We were going to try weaning him off and try St. John’s Wort instead” [R].
“My child was diagnosed with OCD almost three years ago. She was on Zoloft for a year and I decided to wean her off and try some natural supplements. We used N-acetylcysteine for a bit but didn’t see too much improvement. We started using L-tryptophan and supporting supplements and saw great results. We were able to stop those supplements as well after another year. Now we have very little OCD symptoms left and the anxiety is much better but still around a bit at bedtime. This all started with the onset of puberty” [R].
Experiences with Treating OCD in Adults
“I’ve had severe OCD since I was around 4 years old or so and only got relief about two years ago (I’m 45) from medication. I never even knew there was medication available. My doctors think I have chronically low serotonin levels (which evidently is somewhat rare). By using an SSRI my life has changed dramatically” [R].
“I acquired OCD at the age of 19 and it progressively got worse until I decided to take some action. I am currently 25 and I have mitigated the aversive effects to the point where it is more manageable and tolerable. Here are some tips that I have found have worked: Prescription drugs made me feel drowsy and “drugged”, I tried taking them but I found they diminished clarity of mind. Paying attention to diet definitely helped. I found decreasing or even eliminating certain food had an enormous benefit. Foods to avoid are sugar (accept naturally occurring ones in fruit, honey, maple syrup), meat and bread, along with packaged foods and junk food. Consider eating more fruits, vegetables, and nuts. I found that yoga and meditation really helped me to quiet and lessen all the mind chatter. Exercise is also a big plus” [R].
“I’ve been on various AD’s (antidepressants) since I was about 18 as I’ve had OCD pretty much since puberty hit. These drugs include Prozac, Cipramil, Lexapro, and Effexor. Also Zyprexa and antipsychotic. None of these did a thing for OCD, even at high doses…When my new psychiatrist recently put me on to Anafranil (clomipramine) I was a little worried as he explained to me that these types of drugs are more effective, however a lot worse side effects!! But I decided to go ahead with it…all I can say is that Anafranil is the only drug that has EVER worked for OCD and I can say that I am 99% cured” [R].
“Lately I’ve been taking CBD oil and it’s has helped me feel better. It is natural and a lot of people have success with it” [R].
“I don’t take any vitamins…I’ve tried many and they never helped” [R].
“I am on Paxil CR for OCD, it’s been 7 weeks 50mg/day still seeing no positive effects from the medicine” [R].
Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick
At SelfHacked, it’s our goal to offer our readers all the tools possible to get optimally healthy. When I was struggling with chronic health issues I felt stuck because I didn’t have any tools to help me get better. I had to spend literally thousands of hours trying to read through studies on pubmed to figure out how the body worked and how to fix it.
That’s why I decided to create tools that will help others cut down the guesswork:
- Lab Test Analyzer – a software tool that will analyze your labs and tell you what the optimal values are for each marker — as well as provide you with actionable tips and personalized health and lifestyle recommendations to help you get there.
- SelfDecode – a software tool that will help you analyze your genetic data from companies such as 23andme and ancestry. You will learn how your health is being impacted by your genes, and how to use this knowledge to your advantage.
- SelfHacked Secrets – an ebook where we examine and explain the biggest overlooked environmental factors that cause disease. This ebook is a great place to start your journey if you want to learn the essential steps to optimizing your health.
- SelfHacked Elimination Diet course – a video course that will help you figure out which diet works best for you
- Selfhacked Inflammation course – a video course on inflammation and how to bring it down
- Biohacking insomnia – an ebook on how to get great sleep
- Lectin Avoidance Cookbook – an e-cookbook for people with food sensitivities
- BrainGauge – a device that detects subtle brain changes and allows you to test what’s working for you
- SelfHacked VIP – an area where you can ask me (Joe) questions about health topics
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.
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