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Ivy League Student Sidetracked by OCD

Multiple causes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in a college student.

Top Student Sidetracked by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder [OCD]

Despite being handsome, tall, personable, and a top student at an Ivy League university, Mark was silently struggling with an intense need to count to 100 every time he had a “bad thought." This he told himself, reduced the thoughts from taking over. What’s more, he had difficulty socializing with his friends, without unobtrusively washing his hands for fear of contamination. And the back of his head had a patchy baldness—the result of years of nervous hair pulling (a tic-like behavior), so he always wore a large baseball cap. As his life was grinding to a halt, Mark had begun to feel depressed and hopeless. He had tried medication, but could not tolerate it. Talk therapy was of little benefit. Finally, after four years, Mark came to my office with his parents, desperately hoping to get some relief without the use of medication.

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Troubled Physiologic Systems

After a thorough evaluation, I immediately put Mark on a supplement proven to help with OCD. This would take several months to work, but along with exposure and response prevention, I thought we would have a good foundation for healing. On the history and physical exam it became clear that Mark was having trouble on other fronts. His diet was very poor, and he often had vague stomach pains, gas, and indigestion. He was usually fatigued, and complained of increasing memory problems, which he had to work around. His normally sharp ability to calculate in his head had diminished significantly. He couldn’t handle the increasing stress of school life and was considering taking a leave of absence. His sleep was generally less than 6 hours per night, and he used a great deal of caffeine to keep himself going, but was still exhausted. Mark’s muscles were weak when tested and his reflexes were sluggish. He was hoarse, and generally looked like a rag doll, with poor posture.

Family History of OCD

Not surprisingly, Mark’s family history had evidence of other OCD spectrum disorders (his mother was compulsive clean in the home and a worrier, his two of his older sisters had eating disorders, a cousin was possibly autistic, and the maternal grandfather was a compulsive gambler).

Work-up Leads to Answers

Based on the findings above, and the fact that the immune system may play a critical role in OCD, Mark agreed to a work up. The results were astounding and also hope-inducing. Mark had 4 infections (salmonella, chlamydia, candida, and bartonella), 30 food allergies, was sensitive to gluten, and had a number of markers indicating that his body was very inflamed. Additionally, Mark was deficient in several essential nutrients including essential amino acids (tryptophan and tyrosine) and amino acids involved in neuroendocrine function (l- serine, taurine, tyrosine), omega three fatty acids, vitamin D, Vitamin A and beta-carotene, and CoEnzyme Q10. Marked showed evidence of gastrointestinal malabsorption. Finally, he was demonstrating hormonal problems in the thyroid axis, melatonin production, and the adrenal hormonal axis.

Treating the Causes

Mark, with the support of his mother and father, embarked on a comprehensive program to correct his gut, clean up his diet, replace the missing nutrients, and treat the infections. Together with the supplement and the psychotherapy Mark's life turned around dramatically.

Results in Healing

This program was worked on for 6 months, and by the fall, Mark’s OCD was “95% gone,” his energy and cognitive function were back, and Mark felt like a new man. His thyroid and adrenal hormones had returned to normal, although he continues to take melatonin. He has remained off medication, has developed a social life, and has a girlfriend who will graduate from college with him at the end of the next semester.

Look at the Big Picture

It is essential to look at the big picture—all the bodily systems—when mental illness symptoms or conditions manifest. 

Robert J. Hedaya, M.D., D.F.A.P.A., is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Georgetown University Hospital and Founder of the National Center for Whole Psychiatry.

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