Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a condition characterised by repetitive, uncontrollable and unwanted thoughts (obsession) coupled with a need to perform repetitive and habitual actions that are irrational, time-consuming and distressing (compulsion). Repetitive behaviours often include hand washing, checking things such as locked doors, counting things or arranging things in a certain order.
To illustrate, I once watched a documentary about a father whose son was in the army and serving in Afghanistan. The father was terrified about the safety of his son on active combat duties. His son’s safety became the father’s obsession – it consumed his mind and was all he could think about. In order to cope, he developed a ritual of adjusting ornaments on his mantelpiece and spent many hours of his day doing so. He had to align the ornaments precisely, with millimetre precision, for not having them perfectly aligned might jeopardise his son’s safety. This irrational, habitual, ritual was his compulsion: he felt compelled to perform this routine in order to keep his son safe.
Compulsive behaviours are performed as a self-defence mechanism against mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression or autism, which are common comorbidities of OCD.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD Symptoms
Although there are many and varied symptoms of OCD, there are four main categories as follows.
- Order – This is characterised by an obsession with arranging items in a particular pattern or place. Objects need to be arranged by size, colour or type.
- Cleanliness – Usually characterised by obsessive hand washing or the cleaning of household objects related to food preparation and serving due to an exaggerated fear of contamination.
- Counting – this occurs when people habitually count things that they encounter throughout the day such as stairs or pavers leading up to a building
- Safety checks – This compulsion relates to safety fears of self, but often family members, and results in the obsessive checking of doors and windows. It also relates to compulsively checking for other hazards such as leaving the iron on or the oven and hotplates (1)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD Causes
Some research suggests that children who have OCD parents are more likely to develop OCD as a learned behaviour. I tend to dismiss this notion due to the fact that children in general, often observe their parents cleaning, cooking, washing and performing other household tasks on a regular basis, but fail to adopt the observed behaviour. Other research leans towards the impairment of biochemical pathways. Several studies have found that low serotonin levels can lead to some people getting “stuck” in a mental state where they develop obsessions that are difficult to escape (2). Serotonin is a chemical messenger that is produced in the gut and used by both the brain and gut to stabilise mood and makes us feel happy.
Other studies point to the relationship between homocysteine and OCD. Homocysteine is a sulphur-containing amino acid that is produced in the body via the methylation process. In ideal conditions, homocysteine is converted to methionine, however, when that pathway is impaired, increased levels of homocysteine are produced. Constantly elevated levels of homocysteine can lead to mental health issues, cardiovascular disease and even recurring miscarriages. Researchers have found higher levels of homocysteine in OCD groups than in control groups, as well as low levels of certain nutrients that support a healthy methylation cycle such as vitamin B12 and vitamin D (3). Additionally, researchers have found that lower levels of folate increase concentrations of homocysteine, which is common in OCD patient groups and may be due to the impairment of methylation monoamine metabolism (4).
Impairment of the methylation cycle occurs due to a polymorphism (mutation) of the MTHFR gene. The most studied polymorphisms occur at C677T and A1298C which can be inherited from one or both parents. Whilst they have different functions, both are implicated in mental health disorders.
Naturopathic Treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Naturopathy can be very effective in the treatment of OCD as well as other mental health conditions. Professionally prescribed nutritional supplements can support the methylation cycle of those with MTHFR polymorphisms and greatly reduce the negative outcomes associated with those polymorphisms. Amino acid complexes combined with trace minerals can improve serotonin production to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Similarly, herbal medicine can calm the HPA axis, support the nervous system and improve mood.