OCD and Glutamate

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On the recent ABC News “20/20″ show about OCD, there was mention of some promising research involving glutamate. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter, or brain chemical. Those of us whose lives have been touched by OCD might be more familiar with the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, because these two neurotransmitters are currently targeted through the use of existing medications for the disorder.

As we know, these medications don’t help everyone, and I, for one, am thankful for the ongoing research into the causes and potential treatments of OCD. Several different studies have indeed indicated that those with OCD have higher levels of glutamate in their brains than those without the disorder. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that high levels of glutamate cause OCD (maybe it’s the other way around?) studies continue to show there is some type of connection between OCD and glutamate.

If you’re interested, this article gives a good overview of recent studies, and also discusses possible medications that might prove helpful for those with OCD. Riluzole, memantine, and N-acetylcysteine (over- the-counter) are already FDA-approved glutamate-targeting medications for treatment of other illnesses, and are being studied for use in treating OCD. One fact that is clear is that more research and clinical trials need to be conducted before we understand the role of glutamate, and the use of various meds, in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What does this mean for those who are suffering from OCD now? For those who need help immediately? While there is still no “quick fix” or “magic pill,” to treat OCD, we are fortunate that effective treatment does exist. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is not easy, but it works. So while dedicated researchers work to uncover the mysteries of OCD, those with obsessive-compulsive disorder can also move forward and dedicate themselves to getting well. Both of these are surefire ways to beat OCD.





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23 Responses to OCD and Glutamate

  1. I agree that getting therapy and help NOW and not waiting for the magic bullet is a good thing. I’m glad that research is continuing. We know so much more now than just a few years ago, and we never know what new things research will reveal!

  2. No Doorknobs OCD says:

    Perfect timing! I was looking for information about the medication that was mentioned during the 20/20 show since I’m curious about possible alternatives to current meds in the future. I’m glad to see the topic is being looked into since not everyone gets a benefit from the current mediacation offerings.

    • I’m glad you found this helpful! I don’t remember them mentioning medication during the show, but I’m guessing they referred to the same glutamate-targeting meds.

  3. 71 & Sunny says:

    It’s definitely a “which came first – the chicken or the egg” kind of question, isn’t it, Janet? Regardless, I’m always glad to hear about continued research.

  4. phyllis scalia says:

    My husband and I watched the 20/20 program on OCD with very mixed feelings. We have two children with OCD and both have received long-term ERP therapy even residential therapy which was very, very costly…not covered by insurance. Yes, ERP helps but without medication neither one of my children could have progressed during the ERP. They are functioning, employed adults with college degrees for which we are all thankful. But they continue to struggle every single day against this disease which waxes and wanes according to life. The 20/20 program never mentioned medication at all, except for the new research on glutamate…In fact, this research was presented at the International OCD Convention in Chicago almost 2 years ago! Most doctors are not familiar with the research. In addition, I felt the 20/20 program suggested that most people with OCD will be “cured” or nearly cured with ERP. This is simply NOT true! Statistically, many serious OCD suffers are very difficult to help with ERP or meds.

    • Hi Phyllis, Thanks for sharing your family’s story. I agree that that the 20/20 show was not a comprehensive review of all the treatment options for OCD, but I felt they did a good job on what they focused on (ERP therapy). Medication is such an individual thing; what works for some can be a disaster for others. No doubt they could do an entire show on that subject! Also, while it was certainly a hopeful, positive ending, showing how the young people with OCD were able to get on with their lives, I didn’t get the impression that they were trying to tell us that they were almost “cured,” but rather now had the tools to handle whatever struggles with OCD that would come their way. As you say, OCD waxes and wanes and, for so many sufferers, is a constant battle. Wishing you and your family all the best and I hope to hear from you again!

  5. Brenda says:

    Thanks so much for all you do about this very disabling tyrant, your concern and information is so helpful, and I know we all look forward to any messages you have on ocd.

    My son was also in intensive care, and it was expensive, the medication did not work for him, and doing the erp proved to be more than he could handle. So, we look forward to any information about any research and help that we can get.

    We also watched the 20/20 program, and felt it kind of left us hanging, as to what to do?? Since they now know the glutamate could be the problem—I guess we thought there would be more information? Being as our son could not do the therapy, and none of the medication was helping.

    But, thankfully we have you, and I feel you have enlightened us more on the subject—and research that is going on!

    Hopefully soon, there will be a medication that will help with severe ocd, where medication so far, has not helped them!

    Thanks for all you do Janet!

    • Hi Brenda, Thank you so much for your kind words. I remember feeling so alone when my son’s OCD was severe, and those memories are a big part of why I blog: so others don’t feel so alone. Knowing you find my posts helpful really means a lot to me.
      You say your son was in intensive care…..do you mean a residential program? I just can’t help thinking that perhaps a different program, or a different therapist who specializes in ERP, might be able to work with you son at a pace that is better suited to him. If you think I can be of any help to you in finding a good fit, feel free to email me at: ocdtalk@yahoo.com.
      I’m wishing you and your son all the best as you continue fighting OCD.

  6. obsessivelady says:

    It is great to hear that further research is going on to help those of us with and affected by OCD. I have recently started my own blog on my experiences with OCD and would welcome comments and similar experiences. Please check it out http://obsessivecompulsivediary.wordpress.com/
    Thank you

  7. Thank you for sharing. Very interesting research, best wishes.

  8. Tony says:

    My 12y/o has OCD. We did a neurotransmitter test last year and he has high Glutamate. I did a bit of research on the OCD/Glutamate theory but could not find that much info but I think it is an area to look into further. He is a very smart boy and I have read that high glutamate individuals do tend to be on the smart side.

    • Thanks for sharing, Tony. It seems to me that we are on the edge of research into glutamate that might truly benefit those with OCD. It’s just so hard to be patient! I wish you and your son all the best.

  9. Jared says:

    Very interesting! While I don’t speak about this issue exactly, I feel that there are other important health/biological issues that those with OCD likely face which can be reduced naturally. For those looking for other natural options for OCD, I wrote an e-book called OCD Empowerment (available on Amazon) and have a website http://www.ocdempowerment.com which has various articles about ways to naturally rise above OCD. I offer health coaching (I’m not a doctor and don’t have medical qualifications) for OCD as well.

    • I appreciate your comment, Jared. I took a quick look at your site and do not see anything that discusses your experiences, background or qualifications. ERP therapy is the front line treatment for OCD, and is also a “natural option.” If you have evidence that backs any of your treatment suggestions, I would love to hear more. Thank you!

      • Jared says:

        Thanks Janet! I definitely understand. My focus is more of health coaching and researching what leading doctors in the OCD field have been using successfully in ways that are different than ERP. You are right though about the qualifications and proof at this point. I would like to work with more people to gain greater clarity on what works most efficiently but I do feel that the approaches have validity, just not enough conclusive proof yet. In essence, I’m presenting ways to naturally tone down OCD so that it is easier to choose to overcome. For those who choose a more natural approach, though, I can offer various and nutritional/herbal ideas that can often make it much easier to transcend it. Thank you really,though, for checking it out! If you know of anyone who might benefit from coaching in this way (herbs and techniques I’ve personally used for myself and have recommended to others) I’d love to work with them. Also, I’d love to share the ideas, concepts and approaches with you if are interested at some point even though, understandably, you might not agree with some of them. Let me know if you have any more questions! The point about not having my own experience on there is a good one by the way. I’m not a doctor but have researched natural health for years and have spoken to certain doctors in the field about their approaches while writing my e-book (not that they necessarily agree with all of the information in it).

        Thanks again!


      • Jared says:

        Hi, I just realized that I made it appear as if ERP was not a natural option. You’re right. I just meant other natural options.


  10. Hi Jared, The treatment of OCD, at this point, is actually straightforward. ERP therapy done with a competent therapist, sometimes in conjunction with medication, is the front line treatment for the disorder. It works. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes OCD sufferers years before they are even aware of the proper treatment for OCD. That is one of the main reasons why I started this blog. Most other therapies have typically not helped, and have often hurt, those struggling with the disorder. I would not recommend any therapies that are not evidence-based.

  11. kbranagan says:

    Hello, I know this is an old post, but some information that I recently came across seems very relevant. A disorder known as dicarboxylic aminoacidosia is a genetic condition where glutamate and aspartate do not go into the cells of the brain. So all that excess glutamate and aspartate is sent out of the body in the urine. One research article in 2011 linked this disorder with OCD….seems like part of the puzzle…http://www.sciencealert.com/urine-tests-for-ocd

    • How interesting! Thank you so much for sharing. Researchers are doing such amazing work, and I always appreciate being informed about it. A urine test for OCD would certainly be helpful in getting treatment started early. Thanks again and I hope to hear from you more!

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