Hypothyroidism may affect obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) through altered neurotransmitter activity, inflammation, and immune system responses. The connection may also work the other way around.

The thyroid gland plays an important role in regulating various bodily functions, including metabolism and brain function. But can hypothyroidism affect your mental health, particularly obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We explore the link between thyroid and OCD, as well as how these conditions are treated.

Hypothyroidism may contribute to the development or worsening of OCD symptoms.

Research from 2020 suggests a link between thyroid dysfunction and mental health disorders, including OCD. Changes in thyroid hormone levels can affect neurotransmitter activity in the brain, potentially leading to mood and anxiety disorders such as OCD.

In addition, thyroid disorders are associated with changes in the immune system and inflammatory responses, which can also contribute to OCD.

In a review of studies from 1977 to 2021 on thyroid disorders and OCD, two studies found that OCD rates were higher in people with autoimmune thyroid disorders, such as Hashimoto thyroiditis.

A 2015 study of 40 individuals with OCD and 40 controls showed no significant difference in thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels between those with OCD and those without OCD. However, people with OCD had significantly lower levels of free triiodothyronine (FT3) and free thyroxine (FT4) hormones than those without OCD.

This could indicate that lower levels of TSH may be associated with OCD.

Can hypothyroidism affect your mental health in other ways?

Yes, hypothyroidism can affect mental health in other ways.

Thyroid hormones play a crucial role in brain function. So when thyroid levels are low, this can lead to symptoms such as depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and memory issues. Treating hypothyroidism can often improve these mental health symptoms.

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Currently, there is no direct evidence to suggest that OCD itself affects thyroid function. However, the relationship between mental health disorders and thyroid function is complex and may be bidirectional. That is, they may influence each other in a feedback loop.

The stress and anxiety associated with OCD could potentially influence the body’s endocrine system, including the thyroid gland. Chronic stress can affect hormone levels and overall endocrine function, which might indirectly affect thyroid health.

However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential interactions between OCD and thyroid function. Thyroid dysfunction is more commonly considered a contributing factor to the development or worsening of OCD symptoms rather than the other way around.

Treating hypothyroidism and OCD together requires a comprehensive approach that addresses both conditions. Here are the general strategies for managing both:

  • Use thyroid hormone replacement therapy: Levothyroxine (Synthroid) is commonly prescribed to restore normal thyroid hormone levels in hypothyroidism. Undergoing regular blood tests can help ensure you’re getting the correct dosage.
  • Take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs such as fluoxetine, sertraline, or escitalopram are often used to treat OCD by balancing neurotransmitters in the brain.
  • Try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with exposure and response prevention (ERP): CBT strategies, as well as ERP therapy, are effective for reducing OCD symptoms by gradually exposing individuals to their fears and helping them resist compulsive behaviors.
  • Consume a nutrient-rich diet: Taking essential nutrients like iodine, selenium, and zinc can help support thyroid function.
  • Follow a gluten-free diet: Research from 2023 suggests that a gluten-free diet may positively affect thyroid function and inflammation in participants with Hashimoto thyroiditis, especially those with gluten-related conditions.
  • Limit sugar and processed foods: Reducing sugar and processed foods may decrease inflammation and support thyroid function and mental health.
  • Consume omega-3 fatty acids: Consuming omega-3-rich foods like fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts can help support brain health and reduce inflammation.

Thyroid disorders, such as hypothyroidism, can affect mental health, potentially contributing to conditions like OCD, through their effects on neurotransmitter activity and inflammatory responses.

If you believe you have a thyroid disorder or OCD, seek medical advice for proper diagnosis and treatment. Managing thyroid health through medication, lifestyle changes, and diet, combined with OCD treatments like therapy and medications, can help improve your symptoms and overall well-being.