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 am thriving. And I’m always learning. And I’m sharing everything I’ve learned to support people suffering from OCD who want to get their lives back.
The previous articles in The OCD series looked at nutritional tools that support the nervous system and mental health, the potential role of trauma in OCD and anxiety, and what my experience of OCD relapse was like.
This article is going to return the focus to nutrition and biochemistry, and discuss treatable metabolic and genetic conditions that can play a role in OCD and other mental health conditions, such as generalized anxiety, ADHD, all types of depression, and schizophrenia.
So what is a metabolic condition?
A metabolic condition is a condition (usually problematic from a health perspective) that relates to chemical processes (e.g., at enzyme or molecular level) that occur within a living person or creature. In other words, something ain’t right with how things are working at a microscopic level inside the body – with significant consequences for mental and physical health.
Let’s look at a common metabolic condition that can lead to mental health symptoms and diagnosis, including depression, schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, ADHD and OCD.
Teens and adults…. Are your moods on a rollercoaster? Do you often 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?
Mums and Dads…. Does your child have Down Syndrome? Do they 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 or ADHD, or learning difficulties? 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 classic 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.
Key nutrients lost are:
The mineral zinc
Vitamin B6, and
The mineral magnesium.
Without these nutrients, immune function, mental health, energy, focus, concentration, calm, sleep, relaxation, stress coping, skin health, appetite, digestion and more are all adversely affected. And for those with OCD - research has found that zinc and magnesium, among other nutrients, were 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 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. And, you’re worth it!
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. The 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 (like the actress Angelina Jolie).
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 common of these is when people have a SNP on their MTHFR gene, which results in reduced ability to metabolize and access B vitamins properly. 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, schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder and possibly OCD.
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 use or metabolize adequately. This is because of the SNP or because of the synthetic forms of nutrients commonly found in so many off-the-shelf supplements that aren't formulated with optimal consumer wellbeing in mind. So again - it is worth your health, happiness and future investing in seeing a qualified nutritionist or naturopath for support with this, as we can provide you with quality products for your individual health situation, that work and will not cause further harm.
Additionally, because stress, environment and poor diet play a huge role in triggering the negative 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 has helped you better 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, I invite you to get in touch for a free, no-obligation chat.