Can Herbal Remedies Help With OCD?

Annette McDermott
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Woman With Anxiety

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder affecting millions of people around the world. Its symptoms range from being simply a nuisance to devastating and life altering. If you're weighing the pros and cons of OCD herbal treatments, here's what you need to know.

OCD Herbal Remedies

According to the Mayo Clinic, people with OCD have unreasonable, obsessive thoughts and fears that cause them to perform repetitive behaviors. These obsessive thoughts often lead people to seek treatment from a doctor. Since it's believed OCD is caused by either brain chemistry changes or environmental factors, doctors often prescribe psychotherapy or antidepressants. But, for some people, the side effects of the medications may be as difficult to handle as the disorder itself. As a result, some people consider alternative herbal treatments for relief.

Herbal remedies for OCD usually include herbs traditionally used to treat anxiety or depression or those that help promote relaxation.

St. John's Wort

St. John's Wort is a well-known natural remedy for depression and anxiety. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM), one study showed St. John's Wort improved OCD symptoms when 450 mg was taken twice a day for twelve weeks. However, two other studies showed the herb did not help the condition.

An article by Dr. Owen Kelly, Ph.D. (a specialist in treating anxiety disorders), indicates that hypericum, a chemical found in St. John's Wort, is likely responsible for the herb's effects on OCD. Kelly writes that hypericum is believed to affect the serotonin system. He goes on to state that it's believed OCD may be caused by serotonin system disturbances.

Kelly also reminds readers that, although many people try St. John's Wort to treat anxiety disorders, studies on the herb are limited and more research is needed to support its efficacy.

Valerian

Another herb frequently used to treat anxiety disorders, valerian seems to help calm anxious minds and bodies. UMM's website states that it's believed valerian may increase the levels of gamma aminobutryic acid (GABA) in the brain, resulting in a mild, sedating effect. The drugs Xanax and Valium also increase GABA levels but to a larger extent.

A PubMed abstract concludes that extract of valerian root shows promise as an OCD treatment. In a double-blind randomized trial, thirty-one people with OCD took either one 765mg valerian extract capsule per day or a placebo for eight weeks. Results showed a significant difference between the extract and placebo groups and showed valerian to have "some anti-obsessive and compulsive effects." In addition, no serious side effects were observed.

Herbs that May Help Reduce Symptoms

While no specific studies have been performed on the effectiveness of the following herbs in treating OCD, there is some research that they may help reduce anxiety symptoms. People with OCD may find them helpful in relieving their symptoms.

Gotu Kola

Gotu kola is an important Ayurvedic medicinal herb. It's believed to be calming to the body thanks to its saponin glycoside content which is believed to have a sedative effect. A PubMed abstract cites a study that concluded Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) significantly reduced anxiety and stress in human participants.

Chamomile

According to The Complete Illustrated Book of Herbs, chamomile has a mild sedative effect on the nervous system. The herb's relaxing properties are believed to relieve insomnia which may be beneficial to OCD patients whose obsessive thoughts keep them up at night.

Lemon Balm

This fragrant member of the mint family is believed to have a sedating effect. WebMD lists lemon balm as being possibly effective in relieving insomnia, especially when combined with valerian. UMM mentions a double blind study that showed participants treated with lemon balm extract experienced increased calmness and alertness.

Passionflower

For centuries, herbalists have used passionflower to treat nervous tension or anxiety disorders. Research supports what they've known all along. A double-blind randomized trial determined passionflower was as effective in treating generalized anxiety disorder as oxazepam. In addition, passionflower had less incidence of job performance impairment.

Take a Cautious Approach

Since studies on herbal remedies for OCD are lacking or contradictive, it's difficult to say with certainty whether or not they effectively treat the condition. But some studies are encouraging and many people use herbs to successfully treat their symptoms.

Some people decide to try herbal remedies on their own and let trial and error determine success. However, this approach is risky. While herbs can offer wonderful health benefits, they are also very powerful and may cause side effects or interact with prescription medications. You should never use herbs to treat a serious physical or emotional illness, including OCD, unless under the supervision of a doctor or certified herbalist.

Can Herbal Remedies Help With OCD?