Possible Cure for OCD Found at Last?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects millions worldwide, causing significant distress and impairing daily life. Patients simply aren't in control of their compulsions, to the point some may even contemplate suicide.
While treatment may help bring symptoms under control so they don't ruin your everyday life, there's no cure for OCD. So it never really goes away. A huge part of that is because the cause or neural mechanism behind OCD is not known.
Well, not until a recent study by the University of Cambridge scientists.
New discovery relating to the cause of OCD
Scientists have recently made an exciting breakthrough in understanding the cause of OCD by uncovering a chemical imbalance in specific regions of the brain associated with decision-making and habits. This finding not only sheds light on the underlying cause of OCD but also offers new possibilities for its treatment.
The study focused on two neurotransmitters, glutamate and GABA, which play crucial roles in brain function. While glutamate causes "excitement", GABA dampens that excitability. Both neurotransmitters counter each other to create a neural balance.
Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy, the researchers measured the levels of glutamate and GABA in the cerebral cortex, the outermost part of the brain.
They found that individuals with OCD had higher levels of glutamate and lower levels of GABA in the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region involved in decision-making. Moreover, even healthy individuals with milder compulsive tendencies exhibited increased glutamate levels in this region, but the imbalance was on a smaller scale. That is, glutamate was only a little higher than GABA.
The reasonable conclusion is that, compulsive habits manifest when there is an imbalance between glutamate and GABA levels. The greater the difference between glutamate and GABA levels, the more the compulsive traits, leading to OCD.
Another interesting finding was that higher glutamate levels in the supplementary motor region were associated with the severity of OCD symptoms and a tendency towards habitual and compulsive behaviors. Again, this pattern was present in both individuals with OCD and those without the disorder but with mild compulsive tendencies.
Cure for OCD holds promise after all
What can be done with this information? If the imbalance between glutamate and GABA can be balanced by manually regulating glutamate levels, OCD may be fundamentally resolved. From the roots.
The good news is, there are already drugs that target glutamate.
Specifically, drugs that inhibit presynaptic glutamate receptors, which control the release of neurotransmitters, may hold promise.
Some existing treatments already indirectly target glutamate imbalance, and now researchers have solid evidence explaining their positive effects in people living with OCD.
Apart from that, raised glutamate levels may serve as a biomarker for OCD, helping to guide the development of new therapies. Non-invasive techniques such as magnetic stimulation through the scalp are also showing promise in treating OCD.
Overall, this groundbreaking research provides a significant piece of the puzzle in understanding the complex nature of OCD. By unraveling the chemical imbalances in the brain associated with the disorder, scientists are paving the way for more effective treatments and offering hope to millions of individuals who suffer from OCD.