Herb That May Help OCD: Ashwagandha


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is typically treated with a one-two punch of behavioral or cognitive-behavioral therapy and an antidepressant medication.

For many people bothered by obtrusive, obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions, this counseling and medication treatment combo is effective in varying degrees.

However, if you suffer mild distress from OCD and are reluctant to take prescription medications for symptom relief, there are some alternative remedies you can consider trying such as the herb Ashwagandha.

Ashwagandha is known for its calming, sedative effect on the human nervous system. It's used to treat pain, stress, anxiety, fatigue, diabetes, epilepsy and arthritis. Because it is helpful with anxiety and stress, both of which increase OCD symptoms, Ashwagandha may reduce compulsive urges.

Other names for the Ashwagandha shrub are Withania somnifera, winter cherry and Indian ginseng. It is a member of the nightshade plant family and is native to India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangla Desh and some areas of North Africa. Traditionally, it is considered a naturopathic medicine as it is believed to help the body heal itself.

How Ashwagandha May Help

No clinical research has been done using Ashwagandha with OCD subjects. Positive reports of the herb helping those with OCD are anecdotal. Still, scientists have some understanding of why taking the herb is reported to help some people.

  1. Ashwagandha contains biochemicals called withanolides, which are precursors to some of our hormones. When the withanolides attach themselves to hormone receptor sites in our body, the hormones that normally park there and excite the nervous system have no where to sit, rendering the hormone ineffective.
  2. It is theorized that Ashwagandha may help our brain’s neurotransmitter GABA do its job, which is suppressing brain activity. GABA does much of its work in the basal ganglia, the part of our brain managing reward, voluntary control, and motivation. People with OCD are thought to have abnormal activity in the basal ganglia.


Use Ashwagandha under the supervision of your doctor. It should not be combined with other medications that work by directly affecting the brain, including antidepressants. Women who are pregnant should not use this herb.

Also, be advised: The Kama Sutra recommends Ashwagandha as an aphrodisiac. If you use it, one side effect may be an enhancement of sexual intimacy.

Sources: The Chopra Center: Ashwagandha and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Ashwagandha

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