By: Marlene Affeld ~
Can the mood enhancing “happy hormone” serotonin help manage obsessive-compulsive disorder? This question is one that is recently receiving focused attention as researchers seek to further clarify the link between serotonin and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, commonly known as OCD, is a condition in which a person is plagued by constant, intrusive, frightening and irrational thoughts, unwanted impulses or disturbing compulsions such as feeling that their hands covered in germs and must be washed constantly less they remain contaminated and contagious. Compulsive acts and repetitive rituals include hoarding, arranging and rearranging, counting, hair twisting or pulling, wringing of hands, or constant praying.
Other people constantly exist with a sad sense of loss or impending danger, feeling they must constantly remain vigilant lest something very bad happens to themselves or those they love. They may tend to fixate on horrific new events as validation of their gloomy expectations.
On one level, a person experiencing compulsive and unwanted thoughts are well aware that they are building concerns out of proportion and know that their thoughts and obsessions are irrational and not acceptable or normal behavior. They also emphatically believe that what they dread is inevitable and can only have a disastrous outcome.
The National Alliance For Mental Health describes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, reporting, “OCD is often described as “a disease of doubt.” Individuals living with OCD experience “pathological doubt” because they are unable to distinguish between what is possible, what is probable and what is unlikely to happen.”
Persons suffering from OCD feel compelled to carry out compulsive rituals to guard against bad things happening even though they may be aware that such behavior makes other people question their sanity. In spite of society’s rules and disproval, they can’t control their compulsive actions. While completing these rituals offers a temporary respite, ever-mounting anxiety compels them to repeat the ritual again and again.
Although such behavior might seem bizarre, it is not as uncommon as one might think. The National Institute of Mental Health advises that more than 2 percent of the U.S. population or nearly one out of every 40 people will be diagnosed with OCD at some point in their lives. Think about that relatively small number. In all likelihood, someone in your school, office, church, social circle or family is suffering from OCD.
The debilitating disorder is two to three times more common than schizophrenia and bipolar disorder although it is often mistakenly diagnosed as one of these two similar, though distinctively different disorders.
OCD is a biological condition caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is not a physiological or “personality problem.” Persons, who experience a head trauma, may develop OCD. Some people may be genetically predisposed. Statistics reflect that persons with a parent diagnosed with OCD are more than 25 percent more likely to develop the condition than those who do not have a family history of the disorder.
Serotonin Improves Mood and Behavior
Certain prescription medications help regulate the complex chemicals in the brain by helping regulate the amount of serotonin in the bloodstream thereby reducing anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and compulsive behaviors. These drugs, commonly known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs have proven effective in treating OCD symptoms. The most heavily prescribed drugs for OCD are fluoxetine (Prozac). Fluvoxamine (Luvox), citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), and sertraline (Zoloft). Venlafaxine (Effexor) and clomipramine (Anafranil) are other antidepressants drawn from a different class of medications that are often used in OCD symptom management.
Although the above-listed drugs can have a dramatic impact on the reduction of symptoms of OCD, they come with a host of unpleasant side-effects including nausea, erectile dysfunction, dizziness, shortness of breath, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, insomnia or excessive sleepiness as well as suicidal thoughts and actions. These drugs do not relieve symptoms immediately and must be taken for 10 to 12 weeks to evaluate the effectiveness and establish the ideal dosage.
As recently as a decade ago, OCD was considered untreatable. It is only since prescription medications to balance serotonin production and uptake have been used that progress has been made. In addition to prescription medication, healthcare providers advise patients to get plenty of exposure to sunlight (serotonin production in the body is light dependent), increase their physical activity and eat wisely by choosing foods that contribute to serotonin production.
Research studies into the benefits of serotonin for the treatment of OCD provides more good news. Recent research studies have found that the dietary supplement 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), a precursor to serotonin, is just as effective In moderating serotonin levels and calming symptoms as prescription medications, all without the cost, risk, side-effects or time constraints of prescription medications.
5-HTP is derived from naturally occurring substances extracted from the tiny seed pods of Griffonia simplicifolia, a perennial West African woody medicinally beneficial shrub. In humans, 5-HTP is a powerful nutrient-rich precursor to the “feel-good” hormone serotonin. 5-HTP changes directly into serotonin in the brain. Serotonin has many very important functions in the body, including a role in visual memory retention, sleep patterns, appetite, learning, recall, body temperature regulation, depression, anxiety, mood, sexual behavior, muscle coordination, cardiovascular function, and endocrine regulation.
As with any diet supplement, consult your healthcare provider to determine 5-HTP dosages. Always tell your doctor of any other prescription, supplements or over-the-counter medications you may be taking to avoid adverse drug interactions.