Nutrients being trialled to manage OCD

For the almost 500,000 Australians who suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), hope is on the horizon as NICM Health Research Institute researchers trial a new treatment which has shown promising results in previous studies.

OCD is a debilitating mental health disorder that can cause patients to experience intrusive thoughts such as a fear of germs or unwanted sexual thoughts, in addition to compulsive behaviours, including repetitive counting or checking, or excessive cleaning or hand washing.

People with OCD often feel embarrassed by their symptoms and seek to hide them from others, which can result in feelings of loneliness.

Current treatment options for OCD include high doses of antidepressants, but around 40 per cent of patients receive only minimal relief from symptoms, and can experience side effects including anxiety, insomnia, nausea and sexual dysfunction.

Researchers from NICM Health Research Institute (NICM) at Western Sydney University have received a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grant to trial the use of an amino acid supplement N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) to determine if it is an effective treatment of OCD symptoms.

The study is part of a wider collaboration between researchers from NICM, Western Sydney University; Department of Psychiatry, The University of Melbourne; and the Discipline of Psychiatry, University of Queensland.

Considered an emerging treatment in the field of psychiatric disorders, NAC has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and influences various neurochemicals within the brain.

It has already shown positive results in the treatment of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and in improving impulse control and reducing addictive behaviour for many patients, including those with cocaine or marijuana dependency.

A previous 16-week, double-blind, randomised, controlled trial conducted by the researchers in 2015, which involved 44 participants between the ages of 18-70, found that NAC had an effect in reducing compulsions in people suffering from OCD.

The new trial, which is already underway in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, will aim to recruit a larger sample size of 200 participants who will take NAC or a placebo (dummy pill) over 24 weeks.

Speaking during Psychology Week (November 11-17), which this year highlights the loneliness and isolation often felt by people with mental health disorders, NHMRC Clinical Research Fellow Professor Jerome Sarris from NICM Health Research Institute said that NAC is safe to use and shows much promise in the treatment of OCD. He hopes that the trial will lead to an effective treatment to reduce the suffering of patients for whom no effective treatment exists.

“OCD is a debilitating mental health disorder and the need remains for additional therapies to help people reduce their obsessions and compulsions,” Professor Sarris said.

“Our clinical trial is designed to look at people who are still unwell with OCD and who need to take medication, but the currently available medicines only provide a certain amount of relief.

“NAC targets a variety of neurochemical pathways which are indicated in a range of mental health disorders.

“If this trial proves successful, we may see NAC used as a standard additional treatment for people with OCD in the next few years.”

Professor Sarris urges anyone experiencing OCD symptoms to contact their GP, medical professional, or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Recruitment for the NAC trial is now underway in NSW at Western Sydney University's Westmead campus, in VIC at the University of Melbourne based in Richmond, and QLD at The University of Queensland, Herston.

Participate in the study.

This study is supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (Project Grant No.APP1104460).

This clinical trial has been approved by Western Sydney University Human Research Ethics Committee (Approval Number: H12181), The Melbourne Clinic Research Ethics Committee (Approval Number: 279) and The University of Queensland Human Research Ethics Committee (Approval Number: 2016001720).