This article will introduce a key nutritional tool that has helped me recover from OCD and start LIVING. OCD nearly killed me during my teen years and 20s. I understand the hell this illness can be and how hard it can be to find help for it.
When I got started on my recovery, OCD had been dominant in my life for 16 years and I was at a point where I was struggling to leave my house. I had a myriad of health issues, from constant rumination, insomnia, migraines and PMS, to obsessions and compulsions that dominated my daily life and held me back.
This is the second article in The OCD series. The first article discussed the role of protein in supporting nervous / mental health and how eating more protein foods supported my recovery. In this article, I discuss the types of fats that nourish your nervous system and your mental health. And I'll share how mega-dosing with supplemental omega 3 supported my recovery from OCD.
Parts of your body are literally made of fat. Your brain contains the omega 3 fat DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and many of your nerves have a fatty, insulating coating called myelin sheathing. The membranes of every single cell in your body are partially made from saturated fats. Dietary omega 3 fats reduce inflammation and support healing processes in the body and saturated fats provide you with energy. We really do need nourishing saturated and omega 3 fats for good mental and physical health and the structure of our bodies and brains.
Unfortunately, for a long time we’ve been taught ‘fat is bad’. Furthermore, the types of fats found in abundance in our food supply nowadays don’t tend to be the nourishing kind. If we’re not careful consumers, we end up eating too much inflammatory omega 6 fat – like soy (oil, beans, milk), canola oil, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, rice bran oils and margarine. When what we need are the anti-inflammatory fats that support our brains, nerves, cells and overall health. Like the saturated fat found in butter, coconut oil, eggs and meats, and the omega 3 fat found in oily fish like sardines, mackerel, anchovies and wild salmon (or in fish oil supplements) and in free range eggs, free range and wild meats, flax seeds and chia seeds.
Taking salmon oil capsules and flaxseed oil (rich sources of the three different types of omega 3: EPA, DHA and ALA) long-term greatly helped reduce my OCD symptoms and other health issues.
Some benefits I experienced in the first few months of taking fish oil and flaxseed oil were:
-I still experienced obsessive thoughts and compulsions but no longer felt hysterical. I was noticeably calmer to myself and those close to me. I became able to observe the obsessions and compulsions but no longer be fully consumed by them. The anxiety dragon was still there....but I was no longer being thrashed around in its jaws.
-I was no longer bloated and looked and felt slimmer – I hadn't realised how bloated I had been until this change occurred! And my bowel motions became regular (daily), helping my body detoxify.
-Acne cleared up and my skin looked radiant.
-I felt happier. I laughed more and more.
-My periods became happier – less cramping and tearfulness, breasts no longer so tender in the week before my period.
So how did taking omega 3 supplements long term (and eating more omega 3 foods) support my recovery from severe OCD? First of all, it would have reduced inflammation, which can directly affect the health of the brain. And while it can't be said for certain what all the mechanisms were, there are two discoveries documented in the scientific literature (i.e., published research) that stand out for me and offer possible explanation.
-One discovery (across multiple studies) is that when males and females of varied ages who have OCD have had their brains scanned using PET, abnormalities in the white matter (myelin) of the brain have routinely been found.
-The other discovery is that dietary omega 3 seems to support myelination / white matter integrity. So it may be that omega 3 improves mental health by improving white matter / myelin integrity.
To clarify, when I say I took omega 3 supplements long term, I mean that I took omega 3 supplements almost every day for two years. I may have missed a day here and there if I ran out. I was taking a few grams of omega 3 every day for most of this period, and for a few months I took much higher amounts (this is known as mega dosing). Please note, I do not advise doing this without the guidance and supervision of a qualified nutritionist, especially if your gallbladder has been removed or you have a history of gallstones or liver health problems. Additionally, if you have taken omega 3 supplements and experienced a worsening of your symptoms, I would recommend you stop taking them and consider getting in touch with me for individualized support. You may have a genetic condition known as pyroluria that needs addressing for you to reach your optimal health (and there will be other forms of nourishing fats that suit you better).
To this day, I still take fish oil on and off. It makes my skin glow and I feel calmer, and of course the anti-inflammatory effects are valuable in a world where we are exposed to a lot of stress. I eat wild sardines or wild salmon at least once a week (even if tinned and not fresh caught). I also eat flax seeds, butter and free range eggs every day, which all contain omega 3. And I eat plenty of coconut oil (I cook with it and add it to smoothies), meats and eggs to get saturated fats for healthy cellular function.
I prudently avoid packaged foods that contain soy, canola, rapeseed, rice bran and sunflower oils – which means I avoid eating the majority of packaged foods most of the time (though I will very occasionally (like, a few times a year at most) have packaged aioli or mayonnaise and desserts that contain these plants oils).
Omega 6 fat not only causes systemic inflammation in your body, it also reduces your body’s uptake of brain-building omega 3 fat. The prevalence of omega 6 and reduction of omega 3 in our food supply over the last several decades has surely played a role in the rise of mental health problems.
Eating more nourishing omega 3 and saturated fats greatly helped me recover from OCD and helped resolved other health problems. But it’s not just about eating more nourishing fats - you also need to be able to digest them well, to get the full benefits. Learn more about this in my next article.
As a Nutritionist specializing in helping people with OCD, I guide you through OCD recovery, tailoring nutritional advice and tools to Your personal health history, symptoms and goals. This takes out the guess work for you, getting you results faster and safely. And working with me means you have a support person who knows just how hellish OCD can be, who will advise you, listen and celebrate your progress.
If you’d like to find out about taking steps toward your OCD recovery, I invite you to get in touch for a chat.