Nutritional treatments for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

People often ask me if I can be of help for conditions like OCD, in addition to depression, anxiety, ADD, and so forth. My answer is always a resounding “yes!” although as with everything else results can vary from person to person.

When results are good, everyone is satisfied, and the next referral is just around the corner. However, when results fall short of expectations, it can lead to a lot of soul searching and disappointment on my part, and the patient often feels that there is no good alternative to drugs.

Recently the topic of natural treatments for OCD was discussed on an email list to which I subscribe. Most subscribers to this list are medical doctors, including many psychiatrists, and all have an interest in natural or integrative medicine.

The opinions expressed greatly validated my own beliefs and approach to healing this challenging condition. Current scientific opinion holds that OCD is the result of an imbalance between the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, whereby there is too much dopamine activity in relation to serotonin.

As most of us know serotonin is the happy neurotransmitter whereas dopamine drives us to accomplish our goals, stay on task and finish our work. Like with everything else in the body and the brain, the key is balance, and when the balance is lost because one of the components is too high or the other is too low, problems appear!

The most common medical treatment for OCD involves the use of antidepressant drugs that raise serotonin levels in the brain. However, none of the drugs contain serotonin or are converted to it. They only raise its levels by inhibiting certain functions of the brain – like the natural breakdown of serotonin – that are not what causes the problem. As a result the best that can be hoped from the drugs is a band-aid effect, whereby the problem is effectively controlled, but only as long as the drug is taken.

Natural supplements have the distinct advantage over drugs that they can provide the raw material the brain needs to make serotonin. When larger amounts of the raw material are made available, the brain will only convert them to serotonin if that is what is needed. However, sometimes there can be a blockage that prevents this conversion from taking place, even if there is a dire need for it. An example of such a problem could be a critical vitamin or mineral deficiency.

The supplements used to raise serotonin levels are the amino acid L-tryptophan and its derivative 5-HTP. These are rapidly converted to serotonin, but again, for the conversion to take place successfully the mechanism that makes it must be intact. Other supplements – like SAMe – are not themselves converted to serotonin but have been proven to promote higher levels of serotonin in the brain and are sometimes equally or more effective.

One reason why supplements may prove ineffective, as mentioned above, is because someone can be deficient in one or more critical nutrients needed to make serotonin.

This can be tested in a variety of ways, and one test I like is a urine test called Organic Acids. This is a metabolic test that measures different pathways in the body and finds those that do not work well because of vitamin, mineral or other nutrient deficiencies. There are many specialized nutritional labs that offer this test, and the one I prefer is Metametrix – see

Another problem can be food allergy/sensitivity, which affects the brain in a variety of ways and can lead to almost any symptom, including OCD. It is not uncommon in my practice to witness dramatic improvements with something as simple as diet change.

However, the same diet will not work for everybody, and it is important to identify individual sensitivities and dietary needs. This can be done through trial and error or through testing. Much of the testing available is of limited value, though highly accurate and specific testing is now offered by Cyrex lab – see

Chronic inflammation in the brain can also lead to failure of natural therapies. Inflammation can be a result of a deficiency or food allergy, as discussed above. Changing the diet or providing the needed nutrients will correct it if given enough time.

Unfortunately, inflammation can also be caused by toxins – like mercury or lead – and it is important to evaluate the presence of these metabolic poisons, especially in challenging cases.

Finally, even though this was not brought up in the email list I belong to, neurofeedback remains an effective therapy for anything affecting the brain. It is a slow gradual process of retraining the brain, opening new pathways, and improving function. It requires patience, because it will not work overnight, but when results are achieved they are permanent, and there is no need to take any supplements or medications.

However, neurofeedback will not overcome the harmful effects of food allergy if ignored, and it works much better when needed vitamins and minerals are given at the same time. You can read more about neurofeedback on my website, or call my office – 713.529.5669 – for more information.

2 Responses to “Nutritional treatments for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)”

  1. I have read many of your posts Dr. Volpe and enjoy them very much. I usually dont comment on blogs however my son has a form of OCD and this post really helped me out. I have also been searching for other ways or even natural remedies to help his OCD and anxiety disorder. Thanks for the good information, looking forward to reading more.

  2. Thank you for this post. My 25 year old son has always been difficult and was diagnosed at an early age with severe ADHD and mild cerebral palsy. At that time I chose to treat him with a pharmaceutical grade, broad spectrum amino acids. They worked well. When he got older he chose not to take them. However, he has recently gotten himself into some legal trouble. Not because he is a “criminal type” but because he doesn’t have, what I call, any stops in his brain. I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about this, who is a psychologist (and he knows my son), and he mentioned to me that he believes my son has a form of OCD. When he said that, it made sense to me. I appreciate this article, and am going to explore more alternatives to treating OCD. I will not engage in the drug route. Thank you,