November 1, 2010
"Since I started drinking the herbal liver tea, cut out caffeine and started taking flaxseed oil with protein foods, I have felt more energetic, calmer and I fall asleep much easier and wake feeling great. And I don’t feel like crap if I do have to get up early. My stomach is now flat and I feel slimmer. My OCD is still the same but I ruminate less - I still have OCD thoughts, but not for quite as long as I did previously, and not as intensely."
The paragraph above is from an email I sent my Naturopath in the first month I began working on my OCD recovery (November 2010). Yup, I’ve kept all the emails I exchanged with my Naturopath back then.
Welcome to the third article in The OCD series. I’m Francesca Eldridge, a Nutritionist who has lived with OCD since I was 10. In my teen years and late 20s, I hit rock bottom with my OCD – it was so distressing and debilitating it almost killed me. Now, after investing time and money in creating my own mental health tool box, I have lived largely symptom-free of OCD since 2012, other than one short relapse in 2015. And I offer support to people suffering from OCD who want to get their lives back.
The previous two articles in The OCD series looked at how protein and nourishing fats support your nervous system and mental health. This article will discuss the importance of ensuring your body can digest and use those fats.
The liver is part of the digestive system and is located on the right-hand side of your upper abdomen just behind and below the ribs. The liver carries out many life-sustaining roles in our body, the details of which cannot be covered in a single article. I will focus on the liver’s role in helping digest fat – because fat is integral to brain structure, nervous structure, cell structure and good mental health.
The liver makes bile, a ‘digestive juice’ that is then stored in the gallbladder. Bile helps break down structurally long fats found in meats, fish, eggs and plant oils into small droplets. Pancreatic lipase then acts on the surface of these smaller droplets to break them down further, making them small enough to be absorbed by the cells of the small intestine. Without sufficient bile, these fats aren't going to be well absorbed and used by the body. In this way, the liver plays an important role in mental health – the nervous system requires fats for structure and function (myelin sheathing, the brain, nerve cells), and the liver helps get fats into a deliverable form the body can use.
So a key focus of my recovery from OCD was what I call Liver Love. To support my liver, I took a herbal formula to support liver function, ate more bitter vegetables to stimulate bile flow and drank more water. Plus, the increased protein in my diet (read more about that here) supported my liver’s detox pathways because amino acids found in abundance in protein foods are required for phase I and phase II detoxification - illustrating that those popular 'juice cleanses' don't really support our natural detoxification processes. And the removal of caffeine from my daily life (I’ll share more about this in a future article) reduced the load on my liver’s detox pathways. This meant my liver was able to function better in all its roles, including fat digestion. Quite simply: eating more nourishing fats that feed the nervous system + supporting the liver in digesting these fats = better mental health.
There are further steps that can be taken to support the function of the liver (and pancreas) to support fat digestion and mental health. Which steps are most relevant and helpful to you as an individual will depend on a number of factors such as your diet and lifestyle (e.g., smoker? drinker? history of MDMA use? lack of antioxidant foods in your daily meals?), and health history (e.g., medication use, exposure to environmental toxins). These are things we talk about in depth and confidentially when you book your appointment with me, ensuring we prioritize nutrition and lifestyle changes that will benefit you the most.
With commitment to nutrition and lifestyle changes over 15 months, I experienced 90% reduction in my OCD. And some lovely side benefits of supporting my liver that came much sooner were greatly reduced PMS, no more acne and no more migraines. It got to the point where I started tracking my period dates, otherwise I’d have no idea when it was coming. No more painful cramps, increased anxiety or painful breasts. And I sure don’t miss the being-stabbed-through-the-back-of-my-eyes-then-vomiting migraines I used to get a few times a year.
As a Nutritionist specializing in helping people with OCD, I tailor nutritional advice and tools to Your personal health history and symptoms. This takes out the guess work for you, getting you results faster. And working with me means you have a support person who knows how hellish OCD can be, who will listen, guide you and celebrate your progress.
Click here to get in touch for a chat.
And, to read previous or ongoing articles in The OCD Series, click 'previous' or 'forward' below.