When other people hear the words Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) they might automatically think of over-the-top cleaning or repeatedly hand-washing. Whilst this is certainly the case for many sufferers and can be distressing and debilitating, this mental health disorder that indiscriminately impacts people of all ages from all walks of life can affect people in other not-so-obvious ways, as outlined below.
What is OCD
OCD happens when someone becomes stuck in a round of obsessive unwanted thoughts, urges or images and compulsive behaviours; the latter are to try and stop the distress caused by the obsessions and reduce the associated anxiety.
This pattern becomes a problem when it causes suffering and/or impacts a person’s quality of life or their values, even though the person may realise that these thoughts are untrue or that they don’t make sense. It’s often just out of their control.
Unfortunately, it has become quite commonplace to jokingly say “Oh I’m so OCD!” without really appreciating that this mental health disorder is a very serious condition and may cause an internal struggle for many.
Some common OCD patterns:
- Excessive hand washing or self-cleaning rituals
- Disproportionate Household cleaning
- Undue concern about contaminants from germs etc
- Repeatedly checking doors are locked or appliances are switched off
- Following certain routines, for example upon waking or prior to bedtime
OCD patterns that are less talked about:
- Unwanted and/or perverse sexual thoughts
- Fear of harming others or self
- Excessive worry about having religious thoughts that go against one’s religious beliefs
- Sexual obsessions that involve children or incest which are totally out of sync with one’s values
Here in Australia almost 3% of Australians will experience OCD in their lifetime whilst globally it is the 4th most prevalent psychiatric disorder.
Onset may begin in childhood for a few but it is more common for symptoms to fully develop in adolescence.
Unfortunately, some sufferers may also live with anxiety and/or depression.
What can you do about it?
- Often, you might feel scared about telling someone about your thoughts and/or compulsions for fear of ridicule or rejection. Or perhaps you fear that there is something really, really wrong with you.
- First up, perhaps confide in a loved one or close friend, someone who will listen and support you without judgement.
- Secondly, you might be surprised to learn that your diet or even a recent infection may be contributing to this illness, which is where I may be able to help you.
- Alternatively, you might want to talk to your medical practitioner to see if you are eligible for a mental health plan, to get some strategies to help change this pattern. You’ll find that OCD is much more common than you realise and health professionals have heard it all before, so relax, you are not going to shock them with your thoughts and/or compulsions.
Take the first step
The role of diet in OCD
From a nutrition perspective, a good, wholefood diet is an absolute must. Research is showing the importance of a nutrient-dense diet in mental health. In particular:
Quality protein breaks down into the amino acids that make many brain-friendly neurotransmitters such as the calming GABA, which helps put the brakes on an otherwise excited, revved up brain. Protein also provides tryptophan which makes our happy-hormone serotonin, often said to be lower in OCD sufferers and then there is the pleasurable dopamine, derived from the amino acid phenylalanine.
These 3 neurotransmitters are all important in mental health and imbalances may be implicated in OCD.
Organic or grass-fed meats, eggs, poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds and legumes (if you can tolerate them) are all good protein sources.
It’s also important to make sure that your diet includes good, quality fats such as those found in grass-fed animal meats, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds, ghee, and avocados as well as omega-3 rich foods such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, flaxseed and chia seeds.
With 60% of our brain being made up of fats, it’s no wonder that they are deemed necessary for good mental health. Fats are essential for the formation of cell membranes including the neurons which transport our brain messages. They help lessen inflammation and enhance the brain’s integrity and ability to perform.
Whilst increasing your intake of good fats, it’s vital to reduce or avoid eating the unhealthy fats found in commercial baked goods and other packaged foods. It’s far better to eat home-made goodies made with real butter. You can read more about the good fats here.
Fresh fruit and veg
Fruit and veggies are packed full of the micro-nutrients that help make your brain-friendly compounds as well as being involved in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body. Think B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Zinc and Magnesium for starters. Eating a rainbow of colourful fresh produce, preferably seasonal, at each meal is the best way to ensure that you are getting a good mix of nutrients.
The role of a healthy microbiome
The balance of your good and bad bacteria is important for your mental health. Much of your immune system is housed in your gut and with the gut-brain axis, if your gut is under-functioning there may be a knock-on effect on your brain and vice-versa. You can find out more about the microbiome, here.
Also, if your child’s OCD started suddenly you might like to look into PANS or PANDAS, which relates to a strep infection.
Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety/types-of-anxiety/ocd
International OCD Foundation https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/
Sane Australia www.sane.org
Sigra S, Hesselmark E, Bejerot S. Treatment of PANDAS and PANS: a systematic review. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2018 Mar;86:51-65. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.01.001. Epub 2018 Jan 6. PMID: 29309797.