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Investigating New Treatments for OCD

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Between 1 and 3 percent of the world’s population suffer from debilitating obsessions and compulsions. Their thoughts and behaviors interfere with their relationships, jobs, and quality of life.

The good news is that effective drugs and therapies exist for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The bad news is that these established treatments only work for about two-thirds of patients.

Scientists have long been interested in attacking OCD from a different angle. There’s evidence that a brain chemical called glutamate plays a role in the disorder, and researchers are now investigating whether regulating glutamate can reduce OCD symptoms. (For more info on glutamate and how it functions in our brains, check out this fascinating article by Neurohacker.)

This study from 2020 has some promising information. When researchers studied glutamate levels in the cerebral spinal fluid of unmedicated OCD patients, they found "significantly higher glutamate levels in patients when compared with controls." 

The researchers went on to add that an observation that "merits further investigation" is the "reduction in compulsive behaviors following treatment with medications that enhance glutamate turnover/ reduce its release." 

This is an exciting development! I had referenced previous studies where the results were inconclusive in regulating glutamate, but it looks like research is heading in that direction. There have been a few small studies that draw a connection between reduced anxiety and compulsive symptoms with a low-gluten diet, which is also interesting to me. 

In the meantime, N-Acetyl Cysteine is a useful drug for other reasons. I prescribe it for skin picking and hair pulling. From my observation, it seems to help with anxiety as well, and OCD is in the anxiety spectrum.

To people with with OCD: hang in there! There are always new developments and new research to help you manage your condition. 

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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