Welcome to the seventh article in The OCD series. I’m Francesca, a Nutritionist who has lived with OCD since I was 10. At age 15 and then again at age 29, I hit rock bottom with OCD – it was so distressing and debilitating that it almost killed me. Now, after investing time, money and effort in creating a mental health tool box and fighting for my health and happiness, I have been living largely free of OCD for seven years. And I’m sharing everything I’ve learned to support people with OCD who want to get their lives back.
The first article in The OCD series looked at a key nutritional tool that supports the nervous system and mental health. More recently, we've looked at the role of trauma in OCD and anxiety, and what my experience of OCD relapse was like.
This article returns the focus to nutrition and biochemistry, and discusses treatable genetic conditions that can play a role in OCD and other mental health conditions, such as generalized anxiety, ADHD, childhood behavioural problems, tics, Bipolar Disorder, all types of depression and schizophrenia.
Teens and adults…. Are your moods on a rollercoaster? Do you explode in anger, affecting your relationships with loved ones and colleagues? Does sleep elude you? Low morning appetite? Do stress and change make everything worse for you? Do you experience paranoia and delusional thoughts? Have you experienced ongoing nausea, abdominal pain or other gut issues that elimination diets haven’t helped? Have you been diagnosed with depression, Bipolar Disorder, schizophrenia or OCD? Do you use alcohol to 'self-medicate'? Did you parents or grandparents use alcohol to 'self-medicate', too?
Mums and Dads…. Does your child cry easily and have frequent tantrums? Are they an extremely picky eater? Do they get ill frequently, and become car sick easily? Have they developed skin issues that creams from the doctor aren’t helping? Is keeping to their routines VERY important to them? Do they struggle with concentration and learning? Have they been diagnosed with OCD, Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, learning difficulties or something else? Is your teen violent or involved in crime? And do your son’s or daughter’s symptoms and behaviours get worse during growth spurts?
These can be red flags for pyroluria, also known as Pyrrole Disorder (and in the past, as Mauve factor or Malvaria). Pyroluria is not uncommon and is treatable with nutrient therapy first and foremost. It is a metabolic condition that was discovered in the 1950s by Dr Abram Hoffer, a pioneer of nutrient therapy for mental health, and a team of Canadian researchers.
For the person with pyroluria, certain nutrients are rapidly excreted from the body via urine, leaving the person affected severely deficient in these nutrients. It is caused by an excess amount of a haemoglobin metabolite that binds up these nutrients, and stress seems to worsen the condition. It can often run in families.
Key nutrients lost are:
The mineral zinc
Without these nutrients, immune function, mental health, neurotransmitter production, energy, concentration, calm, sleep, relaxation, stress coping, skin health, appetite, digestion, learning, socializing and more are all adversely affected. And for those with OCD, research has found that zinc and other micronutrients are often deficient in people affected by OCD.
The good news – testing and treatment
A natural health professional, particularly those who focus on mental health, will be familiar with the red flags for pyrrole disorder and can support you with testing and treatment. A qualified nutritionist or naturopath will be able to refer you or your family member for a urine test from a diagnostic lab to detect pyrrole levels (the haemoglobin metabolite that binds the precious nutrients we need), and advise on diet, lifestyle, and high-quality nutritional therapy to give you the best results.
It’s advisable not to start taking supplements without seeking professional help, as many supermarket and pharmacy supplements are synthetic, non-bioavailable (poorly absorbed) and contain harmful fillers. As a result, poor-quality supplements can actually worsen health conditions. They can also skew the results of diagnostic tests. Invest your money in seeing a health professional knowledgeable about nutritional therapy for mental health – it will save you both money and stress in the long run.
SNPs – genetic variations that can affect health
Now let’s look at a genetic condition known as SNPs (pronounced ‘snips’ and stands for Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms). SNPs can affect your body’s nutritional needs and status and in turn, your mental health.
When cells within our bodies divide to make new cells, they copy our DNA structure. However, sometimes a single building block of DNA – known as a nucleotide – will be substituted by another during the copying process. These resulting alterations in our genetic code (for genes are made of DNA) are SNPs.
SNPs are fairly common and are passed from parents to their children. It is estimated that there are millions of different SNPs in humans, and while many have no apparent health effects, some SNPs can affect the way a person metabolizes specific nutrients and increase the likelihood of various diseases. For example, you may have heard that women who have certain genetic variations are more likely to develop cancers of the breast and ovaries. This is why some women have genetic testing (especially if they have a family history of cancers) and then choose to undergo hysterectomy or mastectomy (as the actress Angelina Jolie did).
When it comes to mental health, SNPs that affect how we metabolize certain nutrients can play a role in the likelihood of mental health problems occurring. Perhaps one of the most well known SNPs is that which can occur on the MTHFR gene, which results in reduced ability to metabolize B vitamins. Because B vitamins are crucial for healthy nervous system function and structure, having a SNP on the MTHFR gene can lead to B vitamin deficiencies and mental health symptoms. People with MTHFR SNPs can be more prone to depression, addiction, tics, Tourette Syndrome, schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, OCD and possibly other mental health problems.
The good news – testing and treatment
You can be tested for SNPs and then guided on how to eat and supplement to support your unique genetic make up and reduce the negative effects of your SNP. Note that people with MTHFR SNPs need to be especially careful when taking supplements, as some supplements will significantly worsen your symptoms owing to overloading your body with nutrients or forms of nutrients that the body is not able to metabolize. This is because of the SNP or because of synthetic nutrients commonly found in so many off-the-shelf supplements that aren't formulated with consumer wellbeing in mind. So again - it is worth your health, happiness and future investing in seeing a qualified nutritionist or naturopath for support. We can provide you with quality products for your individual situation, that will help you feel better and not cause further harm.
Additionally, because stress, environment and poor diet play a huge role in triggering the effects of a SNP, supplementation alone isn’t the magic fix - addressing foundational health through good nutrition, adequate sleep, rest and relaxation is also key. It’s empowering to know our health isn’t determined solely by our genetics, and that we can take actions to support our physical and mental health and happiness, whichever genetic hand of cards we are playing with.
I hope this article helps you understand factors that may play a role in your mental health, or the mental health of someone you love. If you’d like to find out about testing options and taking steps toward your mental health recovery, get in touch for a chat.