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The Microbiome and OCD - Hollywood, Here I Come

MicrobiomeYou can read Teresa Conrick's series on the Microbiome at our Age of Autism Exclusives.

By Teresa Conrick

In addition to more OCD on popular television shows, I discovered that there are many famous people who report having OCD:

Lena Dunham from Girls has her own personal history with OCD along with Howard Stern     as well as all of these folks: Megan Fox, Justin Timberlake, Jessica Alba, Julianne Moore, and Charlize Theron.   Cameron Diaz, Donald Trump, Leonardo DiCaprio, Howie Mandel, David Beckham, and Billy Bob Thornton have also shared that they too, have OCD .  I Lenabring them up as I think it shows how people can deal with OCD and still have careers and obviously be in the spotlight.  These celebrities may be very interested in this information about the microbiome and its key to OCD as current treatments are not very effective.  This from Harvard research:

- “Only about 10% of patients recover completely, but 50% improve with treatment.”

- “Generally 40% to 60% of patients with OCD will experience at least a partial reduction in symptoms after treatment with an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). However, many continue to have residual symptoms.”

- “The most common side effects of SSRIs are gastrointestinal distress, restlessness, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction (such as reduced libido, erectile dysfunction, and inability to reach orgasm).”

Some of their reported OCD issues 

DiCaprioTitanic and Shutter Island star Leonardo DiCaprio was obsessed with sidewalks as a child, often going back over his walking routes to repeatedly step on cracks or gum stains. Doorways also triggered his OCD.

Diaz:  Cameron Diaz, star of such films as The Mask and There's Something About Mary, admitted in a 1997 article that she suffered from a phobia of germs that caused her to clean the doorknobs in her house so many times that she faded their paint.

Dunham: Girl-of-the-moment Lena Dunham talks candidly about her battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety in the Feb. 28 issue of Rolling Stone.  In the cover story, the 26-year-old creator and star of HBO's "Girls" says she took antidepressants in high school, and was obsessed with the number eight.

Mandel: Howie Mandel won't shake hands with people because of a fear of dirt and germs. He even keeps his head shaved in order to "feel more clean." Mandel details his struggles with both OCD and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in his book Here's the Deal: Don't Touch Me, published in 2009.

BeckhamInternational soccer star David Beckham's OCD expresses itself by an obsession with pairing items and organizing them by color or type. According to his wife Victoria, Beckham has purchased three refrigerators so that he can have one for drinks, one for salads, and one for other foods. The items must be in even numbers, as well. "If there's three cans of Diet Coke, he'd throw one away instead of having three--because it has to be an even number."

Gene Research - What Is It Good For?

If you have been following the autism-gene search, the OCD genes are about the same --“candidate” genes and “vulnerability” genes but basically -- much is still “unknown.”  The ENVIRONMENT seems to be more the factor:

Genetic studies  have demonstrated that both biological and environmental factors are important in the etiology of OCD(1). With respect to environmental factors, stressful events have been associated with OCD onset in childhood (2), perinatal, and adult forms of the illness. With respect to nongenetic biological factors, several illnesses have also been associated with OCD, including temporal lobe epilepsy (3), autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (4, 5) and Crohn’s disease (6, 7) and infectious processes (8 –10). With respect to potential genetic factors, family studies of OCD report increased prevalence of this disorder among relatives, and twin studies have confirmed that a genetic component underlies the illness.

Very interesting to see that there seems to be an infectious process, an autoimmune component, as well as a GI connection (Crohn’s) to OCD.  Here’s what else they report from that study:

Segregation analyses performed on multigenerational families suggest that this disorder is difficult to model using Mendelian approaches.

Spoiler Alert:  NO INHERITANCE HERE!  But see what another study shared:

….Eventually, as more pathogens are incorporated into the microbiome and levels of dysbiosis increase, people begin to present with symptoms characteristic of an autoimmune or inflammatory diagnosis......There is increasing evidence that autoimmune diseases run in families due to the sharing of common microbes.... The microbiome a child develops is a direct reflection of those harbored by the mother and close relatives.  Microbes are introduced by a multitude of sources including the placenta, sperm,egg, breast milk, and vaginal canal.[37] …. Autoimmune diseases are more likely passed in families due to inheritance of the familial microbiome than inheritance of Mendelian genetic abnormalities.  Is OCD connected in families due to this sharing of microbes, thus the microbiome created?

Freud: the Id, the Ego, and the OCD

So, what did Freud say back in the day about OCD as his words seem to still have a haunting influence today?

Freud gradually evolved a conceptualization  of OCD that influenced and then drew upon his ideas of mental structure, mental energies, and defense mechanisms. In Freud's view, the patient's mind responded maladaptively to conflicts between unacceptable, unconscious sexual or aggressive id impulses and the demands of conscience and reality. It regressed to concerns with control and to modes of thinking characteristic of the anal-sadistic stage of psychosexual development: ambivalence, which produced doubting, and magical thinking, which produced superstitious compulsive acts. The ego marshalled certain defenses: intellectualization and isolation (warding off the affects associated with the unacceptable ideas and impulses), undoing (carrying out compulsions to neutralize the offending ideas and impulses) and reaction formation (adopting character traits exactly opposite of the feared impulses). The imperfect success of these defenses gave rise to OCD symptoms: anxiety; preoccupation with dirt or germs or moral questions; and, fears of acting on unacceptable impulses.

This kind of Freudian thinking neglected true medical causes. Are we out of the woods yet?

As the twenty-first century begins, advances in pharmacology, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and learning theory have allowed us to reach a more therapeutically useful conceptualization of OCD. Although the causes of the disorder still elude us, the recent identification of children with OCD caused by an autoimmune response to group A beta-hemolytic streptococcal infection promises to bring increased understanding of the disorder's pathogenesis. 

Getting Warmer?

…“the recent identification of children with OCD caused by an autoimmune response to group A beta-hemolytic streptococcal infection promises to bring increased understanding of the disorder's pathogenesis.”  That just might blow genes and Freud out of the water.  This too:

PET scans produce color-coded images of the brain’s metabolic activity. Baxter’s study    showed that patients with OCD had elevated brain activity in areas of the frontal lobes (particularly the orbital cortex) and the basal ganglia. Several other groups have since confirmed these findings. Other evidence for a causal role of the basal ganglia in OCD are accidents of nature, such as Sydenham’s chorea and von Ecomomo’s encephalitis that damage the basal ganglia and produce obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

Both Economo’s encephalitis (EL) and Sydenham’s chorea have been reported to be related to Streptococcus. 

What this means is that infections seem to be a trigger in many types of these OCD disorders. As far as being “accidents of nature,” it seems increasingly over the years that MAN needs to be in that equation, changing the microbiome, and not for the good, vaccines, mercury and pesticides being big culprits.

So what about the many who see stress also as a trigger?

There is now an expanding volume of evidence  to support the view that commensal organisms within the gut play a role in early programming and later responsivity of the stress system. The gut is inhabited by 10¹³-10¹⁴ micro-organisms, which is ten times the number of cells in the human body and contains 150 times as many genes as our genome. .....Moreover, increased evidence suggests that animals treated with probiotics have a blunted HPA response. Stress induces increased permeability of the gut allowing bacteria and bacterial antigens to cross the epithelial barrier and activate a mucosal immune response, which in turn alters the composition of the microbiome and leads to enhanced HPA drive. Increasing data from patients with irritable bowel syndrome and major depression indicate that in these syndromes alteration of the HPA may be induced by increased gut permeability. In the case of irritable bowel syndrome the increased permeability can respond to probiotic therapy. Detailed prospective studies in patients with mood disorders examining the gut microbiota, immune parameters and HPA activity are required to throw further light on this emerging area. It is however clear that the gut microbiota must be taken into account when considering the factors regulating the HPA.


Can probiotics really help with the microbiome, the brain, and OCD, and yes, even Autism?

The idea that bacteria teeming in the gut—collectively known as the microbiome—can affect not only the gut, but also the mind, "has just catapulted onto the scene”   ….Research has found, for example, that tweaking the balance between beneficial and disease-causing bacteria in an animal's gut can alter its brain chemistry and lead it to become either more bold or more anxious. The brain can also exert a powerful influence on gut bacteria; as many studies have shown, even mild stress can tip the microbial balance in the gut, making the host more vulnerable to infectious disease and triggering a cascade of molecular reactions that feed back to the central nervous system. Such findings offer the tantalizing possibility of using beneficial, or probiotic, bacteria to treat mood and anxiety disorders….Gut bacteria also produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood. For example, gut bacteria manufacture about 95 percent of the body's supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity.

So 95% of serotonin in our bodies is made in the gut. Of course, everyone knows that serotonin is heavily involved in OCD which is why SSRI’s are usually prescribed.

Connecting the dots is important with these immune diseases.  OCD deserves true research, like autism and PANDAS/PANS.  Thousands upon thousands are affected and the right road to recovery and hope needs to be available.  I’m going to conclude with this story, a true one that should help tie this all together.

Gut feelings: the future of psychiatry may be inside your stomach 

Her parents were running out of hope. Their teenage daughter, Mary, had been diagnosed with a severe case of obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), as well as ADHD. They had dragged her to clinics around the country in an effort to thwart the scary, intrusive thoughts and the repetitive behaviors that Mary felt compelled to perform. Even a litany of psychotropic medications didn’t make much difference. It seemed like nothing could stop the relentless nature of Mary’s disorder.

Their last hope for Mary was Boston-area psychiatrist James Greenblatt…..Greenblatt started by posing the usual questions about Mary’s background, her childhood, and the onset of her illness. But then he asked a question that no psychiatrist ever had: How was Mary’s gut? Did she suffer digestive upset? Constipation or diarrhea? Acid reflux? Had Mary’s digestion seemed to change at all before or during her illness? Her parents looked at each other. The answer to many of the doctor’s questions was, indeed, “Yes.”

That’s what prompted Greenblatt to take a surprising approach: besides psychotherapy and medication, Greenblatt also prescribed Mary a twice-daily dose of probiotics, the array of helpful bacteria that lives in our gut. The change in Mary was nothing short of miraculous: within six months, her symptoms had greatly diminished. One year after the probiotic prescription, there was no sign that Mary had ever been ill…..Greenblatt’s provocative idea — that psychiatric woes can be solved by targeting the digestive system — is increasingly reinforced by cutting-edge science…….


We, in the autism community, have known this for YEARS. We have had excellent, trailblazer researchers showing us the way.




Wait a minute. DONALD TRUMP HAS OCD? A man who has obsessive compulsive disorder, a mental illness that involves an inability to cope, distorted perception, and the need to perform rituals in order to control extreme debilitating anxiety, is running for PRESIDENT?

 Teresa Conrick

Hi Nicole,

I had to kind of modify your comment as your email and phone information marked it as spam. Thank you and best wishes.

 Teresa Conrick

Nicole Lascurain said:
Hi, First off, I came across your site and wanted to say thanks for providing a great OCD resource to the community. I thought you might find this infographic interesting, as it shows detailed information about the social signs of OCD to look for, and has proved to be a great hit with our readers: http://www.healthline.com/health/ocd/social-signs Naturally, I’d be delighted if you share this embeddable graphic on http://www.ageofautism.com/2014/06/the-microbiome-and-ocd-hollywood-here-i-come.html , and/or share it with your followers on social. Either way, keep up the great work ! All the best, Nicole Lascurain [ Assistant Marketing Manager

Manny Roaches

Probiotics are not probiotics. Not every strain is good for what ails you. Strep is a common probiotic strain that increases OCD behavior. Choose your bacteria wisely....


And we are suppose to eat kefir and femented foods to get better --- what the heck!


"Histamine intolerance may be caused by abnormally low levels of DAO. DAO is found, among other places, in the membranes of cells lining the small intestine and the upper portion of the colon, therefore people with damaged gastrointestinal systems seem to be at higher risk for histamine intolerance."

How much you want to bet that some of are missing microbes that produce DAO or take care of histamine foods.

histamine foods - to list a very few is strawberries an tomatoes, cheeses, all fermented foods.

Sigh! So that is why apple cider vinegar put really made me sick. That is why one week I ate both kefir yogurt and Sauerkraut lowered my blood pressure, headaches returned, heart racing or slowing down crap.

That and gluten - can't eat that either.



To add to Jenny's information.

Probiotic pills can be found at Wal Mart. Pills are good, but the bacteria have trouble colonizing in the gut - since they are not in a community form like established gut bacteria are or in yogurt or kefir.

Sandor Katz in wild fermentation is so entertaining to watch on his u tubes and he put out a pretty good little book -- not very big and a fast read.

He likes to teach how to make your own fermented vegetables.

Fermented foods are what they all are suggesting more than pills since they are in established communities and have a way of defending themselves and establishing themselves once in the gut.

You can buy fermented vegetables in Krogers - they are refrigerated - not in a sealed jar. sauerkraut and pickles.

Here is pretty good u tube -- but Sandor Katz is so much more fun on how to make this stuff!

Sure there is cucumbers into pickles -- but have you ever tried fermented sweet potatoes with -- hmmmmm ginger!


Jenny Allan

Martin-I sympathise with your 'gut issues'. Some persons have found probiotics to be helpful, but as far as I am aware there is virtually NO official guidance on ASD dietary interventions. There is plenty of 'unofficial' advice however, and I can only direct you to what might be helpful. Be aware that AoA eds and commenters are not allowed to issue any 'medical advice', only inform about what is available. Some other websites are inclined to call this 'quackery'.

Probiotics are available in many different forms. The easiest and cheapest are those based on fermented yogurts. These can be in drinks or cartons. Make sure yogurts are 'live' The label will tell you. Some autistic persons have food intolerances, including Lactose and Casein, both found in dairy products. Yogurt is OK for Lactose intolerant persons, since the fermentation process converts it, but Casein intolerant persons need to avoid dairy products altogether. I believe there are soya based 'yogurts' available with similar 'friendly' bacteria. although they are more expensive.

Probiotic capsules are also available and I take these myself. They are more expensive and harder to obtain than the yogurts, but are just as effective. I have a UK stockist, but if you Google 'probiotics' you should find a stockist wherever you live.

The importance of the gut microbiome, to good health and immune system support is at last being officially recognised by the medical community worldwide. Prescribed broad spectrum antibiotics kill off both friendly and unfriendly gut bacteria. Some recent research has indicated ASD persons might have depleted or 'unbalanced' gut microbiomes, so probiotics would seem to be a good idea.

Martin, if you suspect you may have food intolerances, it would be a good idea to have this checked out. You might also wish to talk over your 'gut and dietary issues' with a doctor or nurse.


I suffer from OCD and definitely have gut issues too. But when I looked into taking probiotics regularly there seemed to be a lot of controversy around what you should actually take, with a lot of the products on the market misleading consumers as to what they actually contain. How can I make sure I'm taking the right thing?


I am slowly getting through the book " Nutrient Power Heal your Biochemistry and Heal your Brain." There is a lot of talk about B vitamins.

B vitamins are mostly made by bacteria.

Maybe a lot of this is from missing microbes -- thus missing B vitamins.

Maurine Meleck

simply excellent. Each series piece just gets better and better.Thanks, Teresa

Godfrey Wyl

"and how 95 percent of the serontonin is made in the gut?"

This has been known for a long time: if you search for "enteramine," papers from the 1950s will turn up. None of this reaches the brain, though--it has to synthesize its own.

Janet (ocdtalk)

I think this is a good overview of the current research on OCD. One of the things I would like to stress is that obsessive-compulsive disorder, no matter how severe, is treatable. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, a specific type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the front line treatment for the disorder. My son suffered from OCD so severe he could not even eat, and ERP therapy literally saved his life. Today he is a college graduate living life to the fullest. If you suffer from this insidious disorder, please do not lose hope. Find a therapist who specializes in treating OCD with ERP therapy and reclaim your life!


I would love to know how --- how they figured out that the gut microbes makes 20 percent of the body's needs for thyroid

and how 95 percent of the serontonin is made in the gut?

Deb Lowe

Flashback 2009 my healthy gifted 8 y old girl woke up over night w OCD. SCARED TO BE ALONE... Talking nonstop. Wiping after peeing over and over. I went wild ... To say the least. I being an RN was aggressive in treatment. Found out her brain was inflamed due to bacteria of having a strep throat. Also living in a home filled w mold. So aggressive treatment we did. High Dose antibiotics High dose IVIG. TONSILS AND ADENOIDS OUT. BY 1/2012. All OCD GONE. ALL SYMPTOMS OF PANDAS GONE. SHE Was diagnosed w PANDAS. GO TO www.pandasnetwork.org. Today we live in the Arizona dry climate. She is well. Rides horses. Age 13 now. My advice. Push forward. Do not always accept what doctors tell you because those OCD SYMPTOMS MAY BE CAUSED BY BACTERIA.OLD. LYME. ETC.

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