OCD and Psychobiotics

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I am somewhat familiar with the premise of humans having a “second brain,” a theory made popular by Dr. Michael Gershon in his 1999 book The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine. Dr. Gershon’s extensive research led to the finding that nerve cells in our guts actually act as a brain, and are able to control our stomachs and intestines on their own. When our two brains are not in sync, havoc can arise within our bodies. While I never read the book, I’ve always found the idea fascinating.

My interest piqued even more after reading this excellent post by Therese Borchard. Therese clearly summarizes the latest research on this second brain, specifically focusing on the link between the gut and brain health. I highly recommend reading this article, which cites compelling studies that indicate a strong connection between the health of our guts and brain disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Enter psychobiotics. A psychobiotic is defined as “a live organism that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produces a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness.” In other words, probiotics for brain health. Again, studies have shown promising results. In a study conducted by Dr. John Cryan, two types of bacteria produced in his lab had better results in treating mice with anxiety and depression than escitalopram, also known as Lexapro.

So what does this mean for those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder? The correct answer is probably “It’s too soon to tell.” But I can’t help getting excited over these types of studies, which make me feel as if researchers are on the brink of something huge. Another article called Psychobiotics: Bacteria For Your Brain states:

“Every functional medicine psychiatrist has case stories of the ‘probiotic cure’ – of a patient with debilitating symptoms, often obsessive compulsive range, whose symptoms remitted completely with dietary change and probiotic supplementation.”

I don’t want to give the impression that I think OCD will someday be curable by taking probiotics – I don’t. But there appears to be a lot of good research going on that might lead to psychobiotics being added to some people’s OCD toolboxes. And while exposure and response prevention therapy remains the gold standard in treatment for OCD,  there’s no harm in getting additional help wherever we can.

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10 Responses to OCD and Psychobiotics

  1. Mr. Militant Negro says:

    Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.

  2. Rachel says:

    I have recently been doing a lot of research about how real food can act as medicine to our bodies & minds. The food we eat can either help or harm us. We have become a culture that consumes an enormous amount of processed foods, etc (negatively affecting our guts a well). I have read countless stories of people who have changed their diets (following The Daniel Plan or Paleo Diets, etc.) and have had amazing results, including help with depression/anxiety. It’s also becoming widely known that our brains react negatively to inflammation, which has a direct link to our diets. I truly think we’re onto something here. I’m hoping we can all find relief from something as simple, and side effect free, as food & probiotics. Wouldn’t that be wonderful 🙂

    • Rachel says:

      On a side note, I am definitely not discounting the importance of therapy. Therapy is crucial, but if our diets & probiotics can help lessen anxiety, it’s worth a try. 🙂

      • Rachel says:

        Sorry for all of the comments…I can’t figure out how to edit my previous comment. Just wanted to add that I am only sharing things that I have read. I am NOT a medical professional of any kind. I’m simply a fellow OCD sufferer looking for encouraging news.

    • Hi Rachel, Thanks so much for all your comments. The way I look at it, we have nothing to lose by adopting healthy diets and lifestyles. Even if the changes we make don’t end up helping OCD, anxiety, or depression, they are still positive changes overall, with no side effects. Thanks again for sharing!

  3. Great stuff!! I’m a psychologist and I run an anxiety clinic where we treat lots and lots of OCD using CBT/ERP, but I’m always on the lookout for other tips/ideas I can offer our clients. These findings are early in the research process but very very interesting. On a personal note I recently went through radiation treatment for prostate cancer (turned out well!!) and have discovered probiotics helpful in dealing with some of the longer term gastrointestinal side effects of the radiation treatment. Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work.

    • Thanks so much for your comment Dr. McLellarn, and I ‘m so glad you are doing well now. I know a lot of people who feel they’ve been helped in various ways by probiotics, so there’s no harm in giving them a try!

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