OCD - New Research 2023 and Natural Treatments
Updated: Oct 6
When imaging is used to measure neurochemicals in the brains of people with OCD and healthy volunteers, the results point the way for some natural treatment ideas. ... And what does this have to do with driving a car?
In it, scientists used 7-Tesla proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) as a means to compare neurochemistry to very specific regions of the brain, including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and supplementary motor area (SMA). (1)
The results showed, among other things, a behavioral index steeped in habitural control correlates with the ratio of specific neurotransmitters. It was found that significantly higher levels of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, are among the participants with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and lower levels of gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), a calming inhibitory neurotransmitter, within the same population. That is, when compared with asymptomatic healthy people. Abnormally high levels of glutamate within OCD have been suggested in animal models and by human genetic, pharmacological and neurochemical studies before. However, this study helped to delineate how those specific regions of the brain involve mechanisms of habitual control which are clearly relevant to compulsive behavior, and that some level of the before-said neurotransmitter ratio is common to both healthy sub-clinical and OCD populations.
Compulsivity can be defined as "perseverative behavior with potentially maladaptive consequences"(1); however, there is currently no commonly used definition of compulsivity that adequately captures disorder specific and dimensional trait manifestations. Or to put another way, there is not a clear boundary between the healthy and pathological features along a broader continuum.
The Car Analogy: the gas-pedal and brake-pedal for the brain
Neurotransmitters are the signaling instructions delivered to our brain. They can be generalized into 2 categories: the excitatory neurotransmitters and the inhibitory neurotransmitters. The excitatory neurotransmitters include glutamate, dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine. They provide stimulation signals to the brain and supporting them is the target for many prescription medications including Adderall®, Concerta®, and Focalin®. Increasing their activity may increase concentration but when present in excess, they can result in anxiety, irritability or compulsion. In our automotive analogy, these function like the 'gas-pedal'.
By contrast, the other set of neurotransmitters is the calming, inhibitory neurotransmitters. These include serotonin, GABA and glycine and are analogous to a brake-pedal to the brain. They send signals to the brain to slow down, feel good and relax.
Based on the above findings, nutritional supplements that seek to restore balance to an OCD neurotransmitter profile may be considered. One such selection would be the use of high quality and carefully dosed GABA, which is an amino acid that serves as a primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and a major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the spinal cord. It is available in several different forms, from capsules or pills to pumped orally administered solutions.
Further treatment ideas may come from the use of the amino acid L-theanine. Peer-review research has shown beneficial uses of this supplement in countering levels of excessive glutamate. "The 1H magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) findings suggest that L-theanine stabilizes the glutamatergic concentration in the brain, which is a possible mechanism underlying the therapeutic effect".(2) In this way, a person is not so much stepping on the brake pedal to slow the car down, rather, they are slowing down the car by coming off the gas pedal and decelerating.
Of course any nutritional supplements used for OCD should be done under the supervision of a qualified and licensed naturopathic physician to best ensure safety and well-being.
(1) Biria, Marjan et al. “Cortical glutamate and GABA are related to compulsive behaviour in individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder and healthy controls.” Nature communications vol. 14,1 3324. 27 Jun. 2023, doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38695-z.
The content and any recommendations in this article are for informational purposes only. They are not intended to replace the advice of the reader's own licensed healthcare professional or physician and are not intended to be taken as direct diagnostic or treatment directives. Any treatments described in this article may have known and unknown side effects and/or health hazards. Each reader is solely responsible for his or her own healthcare choices and decisions. The author advises the reader to discuss these ideas with a licensed naturopathic physician.