Welcome to the second 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 left me feeling suicidal and at one point, partially housebound. 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.
When I got started on my recovery, OCD had been dominant in my life for 15 years. I also had a myriad of other health issues, including insomnia, migraines and PMS.
The first article in the OCD series discusses the role of protein in supporting your nervous / mental health. 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 structure contains the omega 3 fat DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
-Many of your nerves have a fatty, insulating coating called myelin sheathing made up of cholesterol and supported by omega 3 fats.
-The membranes of every single cell in your body are partially made from saturated fats.
-Additionally, dietary omega 3 fats reduce inflammation and supports healing processes in your body and saturated fats provide you with energy.
You really do need saturated and omega 3 fats for your mental and physical health and the structure of your body and brain.
Unfortunately, for a long time we’ve been taught ‘saturated fat is bad and causes heart disease'. This has led to many people avoiding saturated fats and favouring polyunsaturated fats. Unfortunately, the polyunsaturated fats found in abundance in our food supply like soy (oil, beans, milk), canola oil, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, rice bran oils and margarine are all high in inflammatory omega 6 fat.
But what you need more of are anti-inflammatory fats that support your brain, nerves, cells and overall health, as detailed above. 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:
-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 OCD 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 published medical research that offer possible explanation.
-One discovery (across multiple studies) is that when people who have OCD have had their brains scanned using PET or DTI, abnormalities in the white matter (myelin) of their brains have routinely been found. This finding has been consistent in men and women with OCD, in both adults and children, and regardless of the type of OCD.
-The other discovery is that dietary omega 3 may support brain myelination / white matter integrity.
So it may be that omega 3 supports our mental health by improving white matter / myelin integrity.
To clarify, when I say I took omega 3 supplements long term, I mean I took omega 3 supplements almost every day for two years. 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 mega-dosing 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 get professional support from a nutritionist. You may have a condition known as pyroluria and would benefit from professional support, and there will be other forms of nourishing fats that suit you better.
To this day, I still take fish oil on and off. To obtain omega 3 from foods, I eat wild sardines or wild salmon at least once a week (even if tinned and not fresh caught) and flax seeds, butter and free range eggs every day. I also eat coconut oil (I cook with it), meats and eggs to get saturated fats for healthy cellular function and the dietary cholesterol that also supports myelin sheathing (that fatty, protective coating on our nerves).
I mostly avoid supermarket packaged foods (sauces, dips, baked goods) that contain high-omega-6 soy, canola, rapeseed, rice bran and sunflower oils – which means I avoid eating the majority of packaged supermarket foods most of the time.
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 oils and foods and the reduction of omega 3 foods in our food supply over the last several decades (such as butter, free range eggs, wild meats and fish) may well be playing a role in the rise of mental health problems.
If you’d like to learn more about how nutrition can support your OCD recovery, check out my ebook - it's the world's first evidence-based guide to Nutrition for Your OCD Recovery. I also offer online appointments worldwide.