Obsessive-compulsive disorder, a type of anxiety disorder otherwise known as OCD, is a serious mental disease that can cause a serious impact on your life. Specific treatments, including medication, certain types of psychotherapy and self-help measures, are helpful for reducing symptoms and improving the outcome of OCD. While some anecdotal evidence suggests that dietary supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids can help symptoms, clinical studies do not support this claim. However, some clinical evidence suggests that omega-3 acids may have a beneficial effect on anxiety. Consult your doctor before using an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fatty acid required for maintaining health. Your body cannot manufacture them, so you have to obtain them from dietary sources or supplementation. Omega-3 fatty acids are naturally present in foods such as fish, flaxseeds, walnuts and egg yolks. A deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids can leave you feeling tired, irritable, confused and suffering from mood swings, dry skin or painful joints. According to BBC Science, omega-3 fatty acids are believed to help prevent heart disease and may help symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder. Although some people believe omega-3 fatty acids may help OCD, clinical evidence supporting this claim is almost nonexistent.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a clinical anxiety disorder that manifests in obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Obsessions are persistently intrusive, uncontrollable and unwanted thoughts. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors used in an attempt to manage these thoughts and can include constant hand washing; checking behaviors, such as repeated checking to make sure you've turned off the stove or locked your front door before leaving the house; or hoarding. Although compulsions are usually unsuccessful at managing obsessive thoughts, people with OCD feel unable to stop these behaviors. According to Help Guide, treatments for OCD can include medications such as antidepressants, although they are usually ineffective at reducing symptoms; certain types of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and exposure therapy; and self-help measures such as relaxation techniques and education. While omega-3 fatty acids may help symptoms of anxiety, there is virtually no evidence to support its benefits for OCD.
A study published in the May/June 2004 issue of the "Journal of Psychiatric Research" examined the effects of eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, on patients suffering from OCD. Unfortunately, the results of this study did not find any benefit of EPA supplementation on OCD symptoms. A clinical review, published in 2007 in the journal "Lipids in Health and Disease," suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful in reducing symptoms of anxiety, although the available research is inconclusive. Due to the lack of evidence, it is unclear as to whether omega-3 fatty acids have a beneficial effect on symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
While omega-3 fatty acids may have some benefit for symptoms of anxiety, you should not use dietary supplements to self-treat any condition you may have. If you think you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, it is important to obtain a proper diagnosis from your doctor or a licensed mental health clinician. As with any dietary supplement, inform your doctor if you choose to use an omega-3 supplement due to the risk of medication interactions and unwanted side effects.
- BBC Science: The Omega Wave
- Help Guide: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Symptoms, Behavior and Treatment
- "Journal of Psychiatric Research"; A Placebo-controlled Cross-over Trial of Adjunctive EPA in OCD; M. Fux, et a.l; May/June 2004
- "Lipids in Health and Disease"; Omega-3 Fatty Acids as Treatments for Mental Illness: Which Disorder and Which Fatty Acid?; B. Ross, et al.; 2007