Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a type of anxiety disorder comprised of unwanted, relentless thoughts or obsessions, as well as irrational acts or compulsions. Estimates are that one in 100 adults suffer from OCD. While all of the causes of the disease remain unclear, research has shown that OCD runs in families and that genes are likely involved in the development of the disease, the International OCD Foundation notes. Brain abnormalities have also been seen in OCD patients, and researchers suspect that serotonin activity is altered in these patients, according to the International OCD Foundation. Preliminary research released by the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, also implicates an estrogen imbalance as a possible contributor to OCD.
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Estrogen and Male Mice
The research study, “Estrogen Deficient Male Mice Develop Compulsive Behavior” published in The Journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, shows that when male mice were depleted of the hormone estrogen, they began to exhibit excessive OCD behaviors. Researchers noted 6-month old male mice developed “behaviors such as excessive barbering, grooming and wheel-running.”
The researchers did not notice these same behaviors in estrogen-depleted female mice. They think this is because males and females react to estrogen in different ways. However, the study confirms a possible link between estrogen and OCD in male animals, which in the future, researchers say, could shed light on obsessive compulsive disorder in human patients.
OCD and Hormones
A study reported by the NIH shows a possible relationship between hormones, the menstrual cycle in women and the severity of OCD symptoms. In a questionnaire given to women with OCD, approximately half of the women reported an exacerbation of symptoms during the premenstrual period. At this time during a woman’s cycle, there is a fluctuation of both estrogen and progesterone.
Menopause and Postpartum
During menopause, there is also a fluctuation of hormone levels, including estrogen. According to the website Women to Women, an influx of hormones may amplify existing anxiety. However, if hormone levels can be rebalanced there is often a decrease in symptoms.
The NIH further reports that in a review of retrospective surveys of women with OCD, a substantive portion had either an onset of the disease or exacerbation of OCD symptoms following childbirth. The researchers say that this may indicate a particular form of OCD that involves intrusive thoughts about the baby, avoidance, panic attacks, depression and other symptoms.
More Research is Needed
Hormones may hold one of the keys to understanding OCD, yet it is too early to know all of the implications of this research, says the NIH. Exacerbation of OCD symptoms may be related to hormonal fluctuations and reproduction in a considerable number of patients. The NIH recommends further research into the correlation between hormones and OCD.