Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
• Inositol; St. John’s Wort; 5-HTP; Magnet Therapy; Relaxation Therapy; Yoga
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychological condition that involves recurrent and persistent thoughts or images (obsessions) that are experienced as intrusive and cause distress. These obsessions are not simply excessive worries about real-life problems, but take on an unrealistic quality. In order to combat their obsessions, people with OCD engage in repetitive behaviors (compulsions), often following rigid self-imposed rules.
The cause of OCD is not known. Antidepressant drugs that affect serotonin levels, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), often relieve symptoms significantly, but the reasons for this are not clear. Psychotherapeutic and behavioral methods may also help.
Proposed Natural Treatments
The supplement inositol is thought to increase the body’s sensitivity to serotonin and on that basis it has been studied for use in a number of psychological conditions, including OCD.
In a small double-blind trial, use of inositol at a dose of 18 grams (g) daily for 6 weeks significantly improved symptoms of OCD as compared to placebo.1 However, some evidence suggests that inositol does not increase the effectiveness of standard drugs for OCD.2,3
The herb St. John’s wort has antidepressant properties and is thought to affect serotonin levels. On this basis, it has been tried for OCD,5 but as yet there is no reliable evidence that it is effective. On a similar basis, the supplement 5-HTP has been suggested as a treatment for OCD, but again there is no meaningful evidence to turn to.
A form of magnet therapy called rTMS has shown promise for the treatment of depression. However, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 18 people with OCD found no evidence of benefit through the use of rTMS.6
In a small, randomized trial, a yoga meditation technique called kundalini was more effective for OCD than a relaxation therapy involving mindfulness meditation after 3 months.7 However, another small study found mindfulness meditation more helpful than no intervention for OCD symptoms.8
Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution
Various herbs and supplements may interact with drugs used to treat OCD. For more information on these potential risks see the individual drug article in the Drug Interactions section of this database.
References [ + ]
1. Fux M, Levine J, Aviv A, et al. Inositol treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Am J Psychiatry. 1996;153:1219–1221.
2. Fux M, Benjamin J, Belmaker RH. Inositol versus placebo augmentation of serotonin reuptake inhibitors in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder: a double-blind cross-over study. Int J Neuropsychopharmcol. 1999;2:193–195.
3. Seedat S, Stein DJ. Inositol augmentation of serotonin reuptake inhibitors in treatment-refractory obsessive-compulsive disorder: an open trial. Int Clin Psychopharmacol. 1999;14:353–356.
4. Hermesh H, Weizman A, Shahar A, et al. Vitamin B 12 and folic acid serum levels in obsessive compulsive disorder. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 1988;78:8–10.
5. Taylor LH, Kobak KA. An open-label trial of St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) in obsessive-compulsive disorder. J Clin Psychiatry. 2000;61:575–578.
6. Alonso P, Pujol J, Cardoner N, et al. Right prefrontal repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in obsessive-compulsive disorder: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Am J Psychiatry. 2001;158:1143–1145.
7. Shannahoff-Khalsa DS, Ray LE, Levine S, et al. Randomized controlled trial of yogic meditation techniques for patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. CNS Spectr. 1999;4:34-47.
8. Hanstede M, Gidron Y, Nyklicek I. The effects of a mindfulness intervention on obsessive-compulsive symptoms in a non-clinical student population. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2008;196:776-779.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board