Saturday, March 22, 2014

How the Stress of OCD Interferes with Health

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and other anxiety-related disorders, puts a huge strain on the function of the adrenal system.  When this happens, a person will feel fatigued more often, while the ability to focus, concentrate and learn can be altered.    

Let’s look at this scenario where physical and emotional health can be connected.  Folks in the height of OCD operate in panic mode much of the time. They can’t relax, at least not easily, because they feel they’re always on the brink of disaster. Sleep may not be restorative anymore.  Their hyper-vigilant minds continue endlessly even when they are physically exhausted.  Anxiety puts a heavy burden on the adrenal system.  This is one area where an integrative professional, such as a Nutrition Therapist, can help. 

Nourishment of the adrenal system is often necessary because it is being overused.  Think of it this way:  If a person is sick with a cold, they are probably using more antioxidants to fight the virus. Likewise, if the adrenal system is continually experiencing fight or flight mode, it will use up more of the nutrients necessary to keep that system running.  Adaptogenic herbs, adrenal glandular supplements and B vitamins can help.  Examples of adaptogenic herbs, those that support the body’s ability to adapt to stress and change, are ashwaganda, rhodiola, licorice root, and ginseng.  Unlike stimulants, these herbs are nourishing the adrenal glands. 

Some commonly ingested food and drink activate, or stimulate, the stress response.  These include caffeine, alcohol, sugar and processed foods.  They may give short term relief, but will degrade adrenal function in the long run and should be reduced or eliminated.

The B vitamins are needed throughout the nervous system.  Starting with a B complex supplement is useful.  There are specific individual B vitamins that stand out as useful.  Vitamin B12, taken as a lozenge so it is absorbed well, supports the nervous system and the brain.  Pantothenic Acid, Folate, and vitamin B6 are also important.  You can find combination formulas that contain a blend of some of these nutrients that are mentioned.

Additionally, there are a few things that stand out for support of focus and concentration.  Following are components of brain cell membranes which facilitate the firing and interaction of neurotransmitters.  Phosphatidylserine (PS) and choline are phospholipids that surround cell membranes.  Interestingly, PS also helps balance the adrenal feedback loop to the brain.  DHA, a component of fish oil, is also needed in brain cell membranes.   

Taking omega-3 fish oil supplements is very helpful for most people.  Fish oil contains DHA, for focus and concentration, and EPA which supports many functional needs of the body and brain.  The brain is 50-60% fat, so we must feed it healthy fats.  Another brain-friendly fat is coconut oil, which is great fuel for the body also. 

Eating a whole food diet of protein, healthy fats, and vegetables will provide many more nutrients than those available from processed foods in bags and boxes.  For those who need more energy, make sure to include starchy vegetables such as sweet potato and squashes.

Healthy fats include olive oil, butter or ghee, coconut oil and seed/nut oils such as avocado and walnut oils.  Hydrogenated oils, or trans-fats, are very damaging to the cell membranes. 

Neurotransmitters are built from amino acids which we get from eating protein in the diet.  Animal proteins are generally absorbed better than vegetarian proteins from grains and legumes.  It is possible to supplement amino acids also.  Acetyl-L Carnitine is an amino acid that crosses the blood-brain barrier.  It helps burn fats and carbohydrates for energy. 

Balancing meals with a whole foods diet is also important.  Try to eat protein, healthy fat, and carbohydrate together at every meal and snack.  (Note that vegetables are carbohydrates!)  Balancing these macro-nutrients helps to minimize blood-sugar fluctuations.  When blood sugar is too high or too low, it interferes with brain function.  This can feel like mood imbalances, inability to concentrate and having food cravings.  This is another reason why those packaged foods are so damaging, so avoid crackers, cookies, cereals, etc.  Nuts and seeds are usually good snacks. 

Another area to consider is whether the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is healthy.  If it is not, then this must be explored and corrected.  Poor GI health inhibits the absorption of nutrients.  Poor GI health has the ability, over time, to degrade other systems in the body. 

Exploring Food Intolerances

There are many tools to support mind and body wellness.  Often overlooked in our modern society is that food is what has always nourished and sustained us.  As a species, we thrived with the diet that was adopted by our Paleolithic ancestors and our brains grew. (See the DVD “In Search of the Perfect Human Diet.”).   In our modern, fast-paced life what passes for food is altered, and so is our health.  To understand and regain our health, we require not only the help of medical experts, but also nutrition specialists. 

Here is a brief description of what happens when a person has a food intolerance.  If a person eats a food that is not suited to them, they cannot fully digest it.  The undigested food irritates the digestive tract, creates an inflammatory response and degrades the functionality of that system.  As more food is eaten, the suboptimal digestive tract allows it to pass through the intestines and enter the blood stream without being properly digested.    This alerts the immune system in an attempt to clean up the food immune complexes (FIC) that are not supposed to be there.  When the FIC’s get into circulation, they can land virtually anywhere outside the digestive tract and cause inflammatory/immune reactions at that site.  This is why food intolerance symptoms are so vast, and why family members often don’t recognize that the same issue may be the reason for many different types of disease or imbalances.  It is known that a food intolerance can lead to autoimmune diseases later in life. 

The brain needs nutrients to function properly, and its function can be hindered when something toxic enters it.  Gluten is problematic to the body and brain function; how that manifests may look different in individuals even in the same family.  Nonetheless, the basics that the brain requires are universal, and the Standard American Diet lacks these.  For instance, omega-3 essential fats such as fish oil are commonly lacked in today’s diet and are crucial for brain function.  See other articles in my blog and the resources listed below for tips about brain health. 

A person does not need to be Celiac to experience significant problems from gluten.  They can be simply gluten intolerant and have any one or number of difficulties such as learning and behavior disorders, unbalanced moods, digestive distress, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory reactions, etc.  There can also be multiple food intolerances.  The major foods that cause problems for people are ALL grains (but gluten-containing ones especially) corn (a grain), all dairy products, eggs, and yeast.  Testing for antibodies against these foods can be done, as can genetic testing for gluten.  These antibodies are the immune response when the body is overloaded, and they indicate that the body is attacking some part of itself.  Antibodies show up most reliably in the stool or saliva.  Blood tests for antibodies can show false negatives if the right tests are not done for that individual.  I recommend people work with a Nutrition Therapist, Naturopathic Doctor, or a Chiropractor that regularly test for food intolerances.  U.S. residents can work with Entero Lab directly.

References you can explore include:

Dr. Mark Hyman wrote “Ultra Mind Solution”

Dr. David Perlmutter wrote “Grain Brain”

Living Without is a magazine for those living gluten free.

Dr. Tom O’Bryan works mostly with and is an educator about gluten intolerance.