Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition defined by excessive orderliness, attention to detail, and perfectionism. While there are a number of traditional treatment methods to consider, some have found better luck in using herbal remedies for OCD.
Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look into these remedies and how they may be able to help you. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety that causes uncontrollable, re-occurring thoughts (obsessions) which can only be nullified with repeated behaviors (compulsions). ¹ These obsessions and compulsions can become so overwhelming that they interfere with day-to-day activities, such as work, school, and relationships.
People with OCD tend to experience the following symptoms:
- Obsessions – recurring and often unwanted thoughts, urges, or mental images that create anxiety. These thoughts may include:
- Aggressive thoughts about oneself or others
- Fear of contamination (germs)
- Need to have things in perfect order or symmetrical
- Taboo thoughts that may involve sex, religion, or harm
- Compulsions – recurring behavior in the hopes of combatting obsessive compulsive thoughts. These behaviors may include:
- Arranging things in a precise and orderly manner
- Constantly checking things (i.e. if the door is locked)
- Excessive handwashing and/or cleaning
OCD is a common mental illness, with most people diagnosed by the age of 19. However, older adults may develop the condition in response to a traumatic or stressful event. ²
In order to combat OCD, most doctors will prescribe serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) and recommend certain psychotherapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and habit reversal training. While there isn’t a known cure for OCD, certain treatments can ease symptoms and make life manageable.
What Causes OCD?
While it’s unclear what causes OCD, scientists believe each of the following factors may play a role:
- Brain Structure – Recent studies have found a significant difference in the frontal cortex and subcortical structure in those struggling with OCD. Due to this, some scientists say these differences in brain structure are what lead to symptoms. ³
- Environment – Trauma may play a role in the development of OCD. More specifically, childhood trauma has been linked to obsessive-compulsive behaviors. ⁴
- Genetics – Studies have found that if you have a close relative (i.e. parent, sibling, or child) with OCD, you’re at a higher risk of developing the condition. ⁵
Still, if you believe you’re struggling with OCD, it’s important to consult a doctor. While these causes may be a good indication, scientists still don’t fully understand how OCD forms within the brain.
Best Herbal Remedies for OCD
Since traditional treatment isn’t always efficient, many are turning to herbal remedies for OCD. If you’re new to holistic medicine, it can be difficult to know where to start. We’ve compiled a list of the best supplements for OCD in order to help you find exactly what you need:
1.) St. John’s Wort
Even though St. John’s Wort is typically used for depression, many European countries have implemented it for anxiety and mood disorders. Studies have found that hypericum, the key ingredient in St. John’s Wort, disrupts the serotonin system. While more research is still necessary, some scientists say that disrupting serotonin is important in treating OCD symptoms. ⁶
In a 2014 study, 12 people with OCD were given St. John’s Wort in substitute of OCD medication. ⁷ Not only was this effective in reducing symptoms but also had just as much of an effect as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Unfortunately, this study didn’t compare its results with a placebo and, therefore, the research is inconclusive.
Furthermore, one study with a controlled placebo saw no reduction in OCD symptoms when patients were given St. John’s Wort. With that, it’s difficult to tell how effective this herbal remedy is.
2.) N-Acetylcysteine (NAC)
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an amino acid that weakens glutamine and creates glutathione, a vital antioxidant. Due to this, some researchers believe it may help in the treatment of OCD.
As of this time, only one study on a single individual found that NAC improved the efforts a standard OCD medication, SSR Luvox (fluvoxamine). ⁸ However, NAC has shown a lot of promise with other mental disorders, including depression. ⁹
3.) Milk Thistle
If you’ve used Prozac (fluoxetine) for OCD and are interested in a natural remedy, milk thistle (Silybum marianum) may be an option. While there’s only one significant study, it found that a 600mg dose of milk thistle was just as effective at treating OCD as 30mg of Prozac. The study notes that you must take the substance daily in order to garner the most effects. ¹⁰
4.) Kava Kava
A number of studies have found that Kava Kava (Piper Methysticum) is effective in treating anxiety, relieving nerve tension, reducing restlessness, and easing mild forms of depression. ¹¹ With such versatility, some scientists believe it may also help for the treatment of OCD.
Kavalactone, the key component of Kava, can act as both a serotonin stimulator as well as gamma amino butyric acid (GAMA) promoter. These features allow it to calm the body and potentially ease symptoms of OCD.
Admittedly, Kava can cause liver problems in certain individuals. For this reason, you’ll only want to use Kava when your OCD symptoms are at their worst.
5.) Omega-3 Fatty Acids
One of the reasons we experience mental illness is because our bodies are lacking in essential vitamins and minerals. Many scientists believe that if we were to intake these essentials through supplements, we’d give our brain and body the chance to overcome these conditions.
Perhaps one of the most important missing ingredients is omega-3. This essential fatty acid is mostly found in fish and is a key ingredient in regulating a number of aspects of our health. Researchers have noted that most people with varying mental health issues usually lack the recommended amount of omega-3s in their diet. ¹³
While there’s currently no research looking into omega-3 deficiency and OCD, a number of studies have appeared confirming it can help with various anxiety disorders. ¹⁴
Similar to omega-3s, another important ingredient often lacking in people with anxiety and stress is magnesium. In fact, low levels of magnesium may also lead to fatigue, insomnia, depression, and headaches or muscle pain. Magnesium is an essential mineral as it helps to bind itself to calming receptors as well as regulating certain stress hormones, such as cortisol. ¹⁵
While there are no studies linking low magnesium levels with OCD, there are a number that have found it to be a factor of anxiety. Since OCD is a type of anxiety, some scientists say magnesium can help here as well. ¹⁶ Most mental health professionals suggest you take between 400mg and 1200mg.
Herbal remedies for OCD are a great option for those who haven’t found success in traditional treatment. However, it can also be beneficial for those looking for another fighting agent in battling this condition. While these remedies have not been approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), many have found them to be beneficial in combatting OCD.
Still, you should consult your doctor before taking any of these herbal remedies. Since studies are lacking and we don’t know all the drug interactions, some of these supplements may cause further health complications.
Still have questions about herbal remedies for OCD?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge on the topic – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
² Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine: Trauma-related obsessive-compulsive disorder: a review
³ National Institutes of Health (NIH): Brain scans may help predict response to OCD therapies
⁴ Depression and anxiety: Childhood trauma and obsessive-compulsive symptoms
⁵ Dialogues in clinical neuroscience: The genetics of obsessive-compulsive disorder: a review
⁶ The journal of clinical psychiatry: An open-label trial of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) in obsessive-compulsive disorder
⁷ Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry: Clinical application of herbal medicines for anxiety and insomnia; targeting patients with bipolar disorder
⁸ Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry: Nutraceuticals in the treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
⁹ Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience: N-acetylcysteine in psychiatry
¹⁰ Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry: Comparison of Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. with fluoxetine in the treatment of Obsessive−Compulsive Disorder
¹¹ Biomed Central: Kava for the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder (K-GAD): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial
¹² LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury: Kava Kava
¹³ Lipids in Health and Disease: Omega-3 fatty acids as treatments for mental illness: which disorder and which fatty acid?
¹⁴ JAMA Network Open: Association of Use of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids With Changes in Severity of Anxiety Symptoms
¹⁵ Nutrients (MDPI): The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress—A Systematic Review
¹⁶ General Psychiatry: Nutritional and herbal supplements in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder