OCD: An Overview
Obsessive compulsive disorder, commonly known as OCD, is a mental disorder that affects close to 2.2 million Americans over the age of 18 every year. OCD is characterized by obsessive thoughts which focus on fears, anxieties or perceived threats which an individual feels can only be relieved through ritualistic behaviors.
OCD: The Symptoms
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) OCD may be diagnosed if an individual displays:
A. Either obsession:
• Recurrent and persistent, thoughts, impulses or images which are seen as intrusive and inappropriate and which cause distress and anxiety. These are not just thoughts and worries about real life problems.
• The person attempts to ignore, suppress, or neutralize the thoughts with another thought or an action.
• The person realizes that the disruptive thoughts, impulses or images are a product of their own mind and not from some outside influence.
• Repetitive behaviors: hand washing, ordering, checking, praying, counting, repeating words silently
• The behaviors are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing some dreaded event or situation. These behaviors are not connected in any reasonable way with what they are designed to relieve or prevent.
B. At some point the individual has recognized that their thoughts and behaviors are excessive and unreasonable.
C. The obsessions and compulsions cause marked distress, are time consuming (more than one hour per day) or significantly disrupt a person’s daily routine, occupation, and social functioning.
D. The obsessions and compulsions are not related to another mental disorder
E. The obsessions and compulsions are not related to a substance or medical condition.
OCD: Traditional Treatment
OCD is commonly been treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, specifically Exposure and Response Prevention which involves the individual being exposed to the thoughts or images that cause distress while not acting on their compulsions. This exercise is initially performed in the safe environment of therapy, before attempted outside of the counseling environment.
Individuals experiencing OCD may also be treated with medications, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Some of the medications which have worked well in studies are:
However, the side effects of these medications may be undesirable or severe, causing individuals to stop taking them.
OCD: Nutrition Therapy
Studies have indicated that symptoms of OCD can be reduced with SSRIs, which increase the level of serotonin available for the brain. The essential amino acid tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and is available as an over the counter supplement in the form of L-Tryptophan. Dietary sources of tryptophan are:
• Chocolate (dark chocolate is a healthier form)
• Cottage cheese
• Red meat
• Sunflower seeds
• Pumpkin seeds
Recent research compared the effectiveness of St. John’s Wort on OCD symptoms with the prescription medication Paxil. Individuals taking St. John’s Wort showed less OCD symptoms and suffered fewer side effects than those taking Paxil.
American Psychiatric Association (2000) Diagnostics and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.)[Text Revision]. Washington: Author
Lakhan, S. E. & Vieria, K. F. (2008) Nutritional therapies for mental disorders. Nutrition Journal, 7 (2. DOI: 10.1186/1475-2891-7-2.