Prescription medications are typically first-line treatments for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). However, many pharmaceuticals have low success rates and possible adverse side effects. 

Many people who live with obsessive compulsive disorder find themselves searching for natural remedies for OCD as either a supplement to use in addition to their meds and online therapy, or to potentially reduce the need for OCD medication altogether. 

Read on to learn about alternative treatments for OCD. Be aware that these holistic techniques may not work the same as conventional therapies, and you should discuss them beforehand with your healthcare provider.

“There are many natural ways to help manage OCD symptoms, such as exercise, meditation, and light therapy. Natural methods do not replace the need for medication in severe cases but can help decrease the intensity of symptoms. Therapy is really helpful in managing OCD as it addresses negative thinking which is at the core of OCD.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC

1. Diet

Food can be an excellent OCD natural treatment. Lacking certain nutrients contributes to the development of many physical and mental health conditions, including OCD.

According to Nutrition Journal, “Notably, essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids are often deficient in the general population in America and other developed countries and are exceptionally deficient in patients suffering from mental disorders.”

Nutrients: Crucial nutrients that might be helpful in reducing the symptoms of OCD include:

  • Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) — Found in fish like salmon, herring, canned tuna, and sardines; egg yolks; cow’s milk; and mushrooms
  • Zinc — From oysters, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, yeast, crab, and beef
  • Magnesium — From green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and squash
  • Vitamin B 12 (cyanocobalamin) — From egg yolks, liver, tofu, trout, and real cheese
  • Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids — From marine animals, flax seeds, chia seeds, and brussel sprouts

Healthy gut: A healthy gut microbiome is linked to better physical and mental health in research. Specifically, study findings have linked inflammation and OCD, although more research is still needed. Probiotic sources like raw sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, pickles, salted lemons, and pickled beets are all valuable dietary additions.

2. Supplements & Vitamins

According to the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation (GNIF), research has shown that dietary supplements can provide vital nutrients that are effective in reducing symptoms of several mental health conditions, including OCD, bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia.

GNIF researchers went so far as to note that many of the prescription drugs (including some antidepressants) prescribed for people diagnosed with OCD can potentially cause severe side effects. For some people, this can result in not wanting to take their meds, which can have a snowball effect in worsening symptoms that might result in higher rates of suicide and institutionalization. Some supplements have been shown to effectively help manage symptoms. 

Amino acid supplements: Help the body produce more neurotransmitters that can aid in balancing symptoms of OCD. For instance, tryptophan is an amino acid that’s a precursor to serotonin, a crucial neurotransmitter involved with mood regulation, brain function, and cognition.

More research supports the school of thought that high levels of tryptophan or amino acid supplements might help alleviate some OCD symptoms by enhancing serotonin levels or serotonin reuptake. Again, more research is needed in this area.  

If you’re considering dietary supplementation to help manage your OCD symptoms, be sure to discuss with a doctor first.

3. Mindfulness Training

Mindfulness meditation is a powerful OCD natural treatment that you can use anywhere, anytime, for zero cost. This age-old centering technique encourages constant thought control, which can help someone living with OCD remain aware of feelings and urges as they develop. That awareness can be essential in learning to control the types of undesirable repetitive behaviors that typically follow triggering sensations.

According to researchers, meditation can be applied as a therapy for OCD with great results. This type of intervention has shown positive results in reducing and controlling OCD symptoms, including both behavior and thought processes. 

4. Psychosocial Talk Therapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

According to an international research team, therapy techniques like those that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) use have been proven very effective in OCD treatment. Cognitive therapy and exposure with response prevention (ERP), as well as psychodynamic therapy and other forms of talk therapy, can have strong positive effects on people living with obsessive compulsive disorder.

Routine sessions with an OCD therapist can teach you to anticipate and recognize triggering unwanted thoughts and sensations, and then proactively control the OCD behavior that usually follow.

Studies have found that mindfulness-based ERP seems particularly useful for treating symptoms of OCD.

When to Seek OCD Treatment

Of course, everyone will respond to talk therapy and other OCD natural treatment methods differently. Some people take longer than others to recognize noticeable improvements.

“When OCD symptoms become severe and negatively impact daily functioning, the individual should immediately seek treatment. A combination of therapy and medication can help decrease OCD symptoms. Once an individual starts treatment, they can start to see positive results within the first few months.”

Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC

According to a 2019 systematic review of clinical literature, “In obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) current standard pharmacotherapies may be of limited efficacy. Non-conventional interventions such as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), self-help techniques, and lifestyle interventions are commonly used by a severe OCD sufferer.” 

Preliminary evidence is promising, though more research should continue to look at how, and which types of, alternative OCD treatments could prove beneficial. While it’s true that various natural remedies for OCD may be efficacious, most haven’t been aptly studied in clinical research. 

Holistic techniques like eating healthy food and meditating are considered very safe for most people, but it’s still important to ask your doctor how best to go about it in your situation. Discuss any intended diet, exercise, sleep, or other changes before changing your treatment plan.

Combining the proper medication, routine talk therapy, and other natural home remedies for OCD can offer highly significant reductions in OCD symptom intensity and frequency. Just be sure to coordinate with your medical and mental healthcare providers to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding your OCD treatment.