What are natural treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Quick Answer
Treatment of recurrent and persistent thoughts or images known as obsessions and resultant repetitive behaviors known as compulsions.
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Introduction

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychological condition that involves recurrent and persistent thoughts or images known as obsessions that are experienced as intrusive and that cause distress. These obsessions are not simply excessive worries about real-life problems; they take on an unrealistic quality. In order to combat their obsessions, people with OCD engage in repetitive behaviors known as compulsions, and they often do so following rigid and self-imposed rules.

The cause of OCD is not known. Antidepressant drugs that affect serotonin levels, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), often relieve symptoms significantly, but the reasons for this effect are not clear. Psychotherapeutic and behavioral methods may also help to treat OCD.

Proposed Natural Treatments

The supplement inositol is thought to increase the body’s sensitivity to serotonin. On this basis, inositol has been studied for use in a number of psychological conditions, including OCD.

In a small double-blind trial, the use of inositol at a dose of 18 grams (g) daily for six weeks significantly improved symptoms of OCD compared with placebo. However, some evidence suggests that inositol does not increase the effectiveness of standard drugs for OCD.

One study found that people with OCD have lower than normal levels of vitamin B12. This suggests, but absolutely does not prove, that vitamin B12 supplements might be helpful for the condition.

The herb St. John’s wort has antidepressant properties and is thought to affect serotonin levels. On this basis, it has been tried for OCD, but there is no reliable evidence that it is effective for the disorder. On a similar basis, the supplement 5-hydroxytryptophan has been suggested as a treatment for OCD, but again there is no meaningful evidence that the supplement works.

A form of magnet therapy called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) has shown promise for the treatment of depression. However, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of eighteen people with OCD found no evidence of benefit through the use of rTMS.

In a small randomized trial, a yoga meditation technique called kundalini was more effective for OCD than a relaxation therapy involving mindfulness meditation after three months. However, another small study found mindfulness meditation more helpful than no intervention for OCD symptoms.

Herbs and Supplements to Use with Caution

Various herbs and supplements may interact with drugs used to treat OCD, so persons with OCD who are considering the use of herbs and supplements should first consult a doctor to discuss safe treatment options.

Bibliography

Alonso, P., et al. “Right Prefrontal Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in Obsessive-compulsive Disorder.” American Journal of Psychiatry 158 (2001): 1143–45. Print.

Fux, M., J. Benjamin, and R. H. Belmaker. “Inositol Versus Placebo Augmentation of Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors in the Treatment of Obsessive-compulsive Disorder.” International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology 2 (1999): 193–95. Print.

Hanstede, M., Y. Gidron, and I. Nyklicek. “The Effects of a Mindfulness Intervention on Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms in a Non-clinical Student Population.” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 196 (2008): 776–79. Print.

Seedat, S., and D. J. Stein. “Inositol Augmentation of Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors in Treatment-Refractory Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” International Clinical Psychopharmacology 14 (1999): 353–56. Print.

Shannahoff-Khalsa, D. S., et al. “Randomized Controlled Trial of Yogic Meditation Techniques for Patients with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” CNS Spectrums 4 (1999): 34–47. Print.

Taylor, L. H., and K. A. Kobak. “An Open-Label Trial of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 61 (2000): 575–78. Print.