When you hear the words Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), your first thoughts might not be about the OCD and nutrition.
Instead, you might immediately think of excessive hand washing or repeatedly checking you’ve locked the front door.
Whilst this is certainly the case for many sufferers and can be distressing and debilitating, this indiscriminate mental health disorder can affect people in other not-so-obvious ways, as outlined below – and diet and nutrition play a supportive role.
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 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.
Some common OCD patterns include:
- 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
Pure OCD patterns that are less talked about include:
- 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
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 for many and may cause an internal struggle.
Stats on OCD
Almost 3% of Australians will experience OCD in their lifetime, whilst globally it is the 4th most prevalent psychiatric disorder.
Onset may be during 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 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.
Then 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.
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:
Protein: Quality protein breaks down into the amino acids that make many brain-friendly neurotransmitters such as the calming GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid), 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.
With the current vegan food trend, it is worth making sure that you are consuming adequate protein to ensure that your body has the right fuel to make the balancing neurotransmitters as well as fulfilling protein’s other metabolic functions.
Good fats: 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.
Fresh fruit and veg: Fruit and veggies are packed full of the micro-nutrients that help make these 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 organic, 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.
Also, if your OCD started suddenly you might like to look into PANS (pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome); and if you had an infection around the same time, look into PANDAS, which relates to a strep infection.
If you’d like to find out more, and work with a nutritionist, I welcome you to make an appointment with me.
Author: Beverley Dorgan, BHSc Nutritional Medicine, ANTA.
Beverley Dorgan is a Brisbane Clinical nutritionist with a special interest in how the foods we consume can impact on our mental health from anxiety and depression to OCD and behavioural or learning issues.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
- 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.