OCD can be an incredibly challenging condition to navigate. It can leave individuals feeling trapped in a cycle of intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. While conventional treatments such as therapy and medication are the standard for managing OCD, an increasing number of people are seeking out a deeper understanding and alternative approaches to relieve OCD symptoms. This article explores some lesser-known contributors to OCD and gives some ideas on where to begin the healing process.
What is OCD?
In psychiatry, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is considered a common anxiety disorder. Cedars-Sinai describes it as causing “unreasonable thoughts, fears, or worries” and that “a person with OCD tries to manage these thoughts through rituals.”
The “obsessive” part of OCD is disturbing thoughts or mental images that occur frequently. These irrational and unwanted thoughts can cause high levels of anxiety, leading to the practice of rituals or compulsions to ease the thoughts. 
Symptoms of OCD
Symptoms may vary in severity and from person to person. Some common obsessions include: 
- Abnormal worry about dirt and germs
- Repeated doubts or self-questioning (worry about having turned off the stove or locked the door)
- Having a fixation on order or symmetry
- Violent thoughts
- Troubled by thoughts that go against personal religious beliefs
- Other obsessive thoughts or images
Common compulsions may include:
- Repeated handwashing (even up to 100+ times a day)
- Repeated checking to see if the oven is off or if anything is left behind.
- Following rigid rules of order, like alphabetizing things or putting clothes on in the same order each day.
How is OCD Diagnosed?
Doctors diagnose OCD by a psychiatric examination to determine thoughts, feelings, symptoms, and behavior patterns. They may include family and friends in their evaluation to get an outsider’s perspective. The doctor will also compare reported symptoms with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association.
A physical exam helps rule out other conditions behind the symptoms. If obsessions and compulsions last at least 1 hour a day, are distressing, or interfere with daily life, the person will likely be diagnosed with OCD. 
The Fireman vs. The Carpenter in Healthcare
At The Wellness Way, we talk about the mainstream perspective on healthcare versus our perspective and methods as the “fireman approach” or the “carpenter approach.”
Mainstream “fireman” doctors have two tools (treatment options) for caring for people: an axe and a hose. The axe represents cutting things out in a surgical procedure. The hose represents using medications to extinguish inflammation, pain, and other symptoms.
The Wellness Way doctors are more like carpenters. They assess the body’s current state with testing and then create a personalized plan to rebuild using nutrients from foods and supplements. Sunshine, rest, and positive relationships are additional natural therapies that help with healing.
While these things are considered “complementary medicine” or even “alternative medicine,” scientific research backs up their effectiveness in healing.
Mainstream Medicine’s Approach to OCD
Mainstream healthcare providers look at mental health conditions like OCD as genetically determined and in need of prescription medications. Doctors generally prescribe meds and psychotherapy to help the patient manage symptoms. However, some open-minded doctors may also suggest integrative therapies as part of their treatment plans.
Common Medications for OCD
Antidepressants are the standard OCD treatment used by mainstream doctors. Here are some common drugs used to treat OCD:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs are most often used for depression but are also used for OCD. They are thought to delay the uptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, keeping them active longer in the brain. Examples include fluvoxamine (Luvox), paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), and sertraline (Zoloft).
- Tricyclic Antidepressants: Clomipramine (Anafranil) is one of the more commonly prescribed.
Medications are believed to treat OCD by manipulating neurotransmitters in the brain. They may help with symptoms. However, they all have adverse side effects and can cause other health problems. For that reason, many people seek out natural treatments for OCD.
What Causes OCD? Trauma, Toxins, and Thoughts
Mainstream medicine tends to believe pharmaceutical drugs are the only proven way to address OCD. They also tend to think mental health is unrelated to physical health. However, at The Wellness Way, we disagree. While there’s undoubtedly a genetic component to OCD, environmental stressors greatly impact genetic expression.
Traumas (Physical Stressors)
Traumas or physical stressors can be acute or chronic. Chronic subluxations in the spine can inhibit nerve and blood flow to the small intestine, leading to dis-ease and triggering an inflammatory response. An inflamed gut is an inflamed brain. Other traumas that may contribute to OCD include the following:
- Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) – A head injury may trigger OCD symptoms, according to a 2021 study. 
- Childhood abuse
- Severe illness or infection
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Military combat – PTSD
The potential benefits of chiropractic care should not be underestimated in addressing these physical traumas. Lowering inflammation by taking stress off the central nervous system can significantly improve mood stability and brain function.
Toxins (Biochemical Stressors)
Toxins are biochemical stressors that may be either natural or synthetic. Toxins that may contribute to or aggravate OCD include:
- Food allergies – Foods can act like toxins, causing intestinal inflammation if you’re allergic to them.  Intestinal inflammation is linked to depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders , and a 2020 study confirmed that inflammation and dysbiosis in the gut were associated with OCD symptoms. 
- Sugar – In some case reports, some patients had OCD symptoms that seemed to result from hypoglycemia. Researchers have confirmed that insulin signaling may play a role in OCD. 
- Bacterial infections – In some situations, children may develop OCD or OCD symptoms following a streptococcal infection. This is called Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS).  This indicates OCD may have a connection to autoimmunity. 
- Parasites – Certain parasites can trigger OCD symptoms and other neuropsychiatric conditions. A parasite called Toxoplasma gondii was more common in those with OCD than in the control group. It was also more prevalent in treatment-resistant patients than in those who responded to the standard treatment. 
Traumas and toxins are made worse by negative thought patterns and emotional stress.
Thoughts (Emotional Stressors)
Emotional stress can significantly contribute to chronic conditions, including mood disorders. Here are some potential emotional contributors to chronic stress, inflammation, and OCD:
- Emotional stress from marriage, financial, career, or other issues
- A state of overwhelm by substantial life changes, such as marriage, a new baby, graduation, divorce, or even moving to a new city.
- Grief/feelings of loss
- A toxic workplace
Thoughts are powerful! Feeling constantly stressed may trigger or aggravate OCD by contributing to inflammation in the brain.
The Wellness Way Approach to OCD
At The Wellness Way, we dig deeper to solve the health challenges others can’t. We start with testing to see where there may be imbalances and then develop a personalized nutrition and supplement plan to help your body heal itself.
Important Tests for Assessing Your Gut and Brain Health
Here are some commonly recommended tests for gut, immune, and brain health at The Wellness Way:
- Food Allergy Test: Immuno Food Allergy Test
- Gut Health Test: Genova GI Effects with Parasitology
- DUTCH Test: DUTCH Complete Hormone Panel
- Thyroid Panel: Thyroid Panel
The recommended tests will be determined by your Wellness Way practitioner, who will carefully consider your symptoms and health history and prioritize the most important ones.
Dietary Changes for Those with OCD
The primary focus must be on lowering inflammation. That means avoiding your food allergies and following a personalized nutrition program, as advised by your Wellness Way practitioner. These are some additional guidelines for inflammatory conditions like OCD.
- No sugar or processed foods – Both increase inflammation. Balancing blood sugar is also important for keeping OCD symptoms at bay. 
- Gluten-free, mostly grain-free – Gluten is known to aggravate the gut lining, contributing to chronic inflammation in the gut and brain. 
- No cow’s milk dairy products – Goat and sheep’s milk products may be better tolerated –and even beneficial for the gut. 
- Avoid high omega-6 vegetable oils, like corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed oil, sunflower, grapeseed, and others, which can alter the omega-6 to omega-3 balance to be more inflammatory.  Instead, use fruit oils like olive, coconut, avocado, and palm oil; or animal fats like beef tallow, bacon grease, and duck fat.
- Avoid alcohol – Alcohol compromises the intestinal lining and increases inflammation.  In a systematic review of 63 studies, reducing alcohol reduced symptoms of both anxiety and depression. 
- Consume an overall low carbohydrate, non-inflammatory diet of organic, whole foods.
- Follow a Personalized Nutrition Program based on your food allergy test results.
- Specific nutrient-dense foods: Liver/organ meats, sauerkraut, and microgreens for added nutrition.
- Focus on antioxidants – Including things like turmeric, green tea, berries, dark chocolate, and foods high in polyphenols can help keep inflammation under control.
Sticking to a healthy diet is essential, but supplements can help the body in healing the gut and brain.
Potential Supplements For Those with OCD
Herbal medicines and other dietary supplements can be incredibly supportive in overcoming OCD symptoms. They can also improve a person’s overall quality of life and sense of wellbeing. Here are some potential herbs and supplements to support those with OCD.
- Vitamin B12 and Folate – These two nutrients tend to be deficient in OCD patients. 
- St. John’s Wort – This herb has long been used by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to treat depression. In an uncontrolled trial published in 2000, St. John’s Wort helped with OCD symptoms when taken over 12 weeks.  However, in other studies, it didn’t seem to make a difference. *Serotonin-promoting supplements like St. John’s Wort should not be used when on SSRIs or other serotonin-promoting supplements, as doing so may result in serious side effects.
- Valerian – This herb was shown to improve OCD symptoms by affecting GABA levels in the brain. 
- Ashwagandha – This Ayurvedic medicinal herb is typically used as an adaptogen to lower feelings of stress and anxiety. In an animal model of OCD, an ashwagandha injection reduced OCD symptoms in a comparable manner to the drug fluoxetine. 
- Milk Thistle – An active compound in milk thistle, silymarin, may help reduce OCD symptoms. In a randomized controlled trial of 35 people, milk thistle’s effects were similar to those of fluoxetine but weren’t noticeable until the 5th week. 
- Borage – In a six-week trial of 44 patients, 500 mg of borage oil was studied against a placebo. At the end of the study, those receiving borage had fewer OCD symptoms than the placebo group. 
- Increase glutathione – The modified amino acid supplement, N-acetylcysteine (NAC), increases glutathione production in the body. In studies, NAC supplementation significantly improved symptoms of OCD. One mechanism may be through lowering glutamate. 
- Inositol – Inositol supplementation may also be helpful for OCD. A clinical trial using 18 grams of inositol daily in those with OCD significantly improved symptoms over six weeks. 
Herbal remedies that are effective for one person may not yield the same results for another. Each case of OCD is unique, as this condition may arise from several factors, including underlying body chemistry, genetics, and allergenic responses, as well as exposure to a different variety of stressors.
Lifestyle Changes & Complementary Therapies for OCD
Additional alternative treatments that may bring balance to the brain to alleviate mental include the following:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT is a structured form of talk therapy focusing on thoughts, feelings, and behavior to improve coping strategies and alleviate symptoms. A tool called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) seems to be the most effective type of psychotherapy for OCD discovered thus far. 
- Mindfulness Meditation – 30 minutes of mindfulness meditation a day may reduce anxious feelings associated with OCD. 
- Physical activity – Regular exercise is shown to help mood disorders like OCD by raising endorphins in the body. Increasing endorphins can help lift the mood.
These natural remedies can work together to reduce anxious thoughts and lower the frequency of OCD symptoms. Be a well-informed patient! Here are some resources for learning more about depression.
Educational Resources for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Videos & Webinars Related to OCD
Articles to Support Those with OCD
- Missing Pieces: 4 Surprising Factors To Mental Health
- “It’s All In Your Gut.”
- What Causes Leaky Gut and How Can You Heal It? – The Wellness Way
CONNECT WITH US!
We invite you to connect with us! Find an event at a clinic near you! Follow us on social media. Tune in to A Different Perspective each Saturday morning LIVE to get innovative training directly from Dr. Patrick Flynn. Set up a no-obligation health consult with one of our doctors today. The best is yet to come! Think differently – and THRIVE. Reach out to a Wellness Way clinic today to get thorough testing and start on your health journey. We are here to help!
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) | Cedars-Sinai
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic
- The Connection between Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury in Paediatric and Young Patients, Therapeutic Guidelines and New Therapeutic Approaches (scirp.org)
- Food Allergies: The Basics – PMC (nih.gov)
- The Gut-Brain Axis: How Microbiota and Host Inflammasome Influence Brain Physiology and Pathology – PubMed (nih.gov)
- The gut microbiome and inflammation in obsessive-compulsive disorder patients compared to age- and sex-matched controls: a pilot study – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Converging evidence points towards a role of insulin signaling in regulating compulsive behavior – PMC (nih.gov)
- NIMH » Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (nih.gov)
- Immunological causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder: is it time for the concept of an “autoimmune OCD” subtype? – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Toxoplasmosis in Treatment-Resistant Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Patients – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Mood disorders and non-celiac gluten sensitivity – PubMed (nih.gov)
- In vitro evaluation of immunomodulatory activities of goat milk Extracellular Vesicles (mEVs) in a model of gut inflammation – PubMed (nih.gov)
- The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Harm reduction-a systematic review on effects of alcohol reduction on physical and mental symptoms – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Vitamin B12, folate, and homocysteine levels in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Serum folate and homocysteine levels in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder – PubMed (nih.gov)
- An open-label trial of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) in obsessive-compulsive disorder – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L.) vs. placebo in treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder: a randomized double-blind study – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Influence of Withania somnifera on obsessive compulsive disorder in mice – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Comparison of Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. with fluoxetine in the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Efficacy of aqueous extract of Echium amoenum in treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder – PubMed (nih.gov)
- N-acetylcysteine add-on treatment in refractory obsessive-compulsive disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Inositol treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder – PubMed (nih.gov)
- CBT for OCD and Anxiety | Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (ocdla.com)
- Meditation for Anxiety and Depression? – 01/06/2014 (hopkinsmedicine.org)