Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, can be a crippling cognitive impairment. It is classed as an anxiety disorder, akin to post-traumatic stress disorder and certain social phobias. Patients are often subject to irrational and uncontrollable impulses and tics, such as turning a light switch on and off 40 times before leaving a room. The tics may be tied to powerful senses of superstition -- "everyone in my family will die if I don't touch the doorknob three times." Patients may be aware of the irrational nature of the impulses, and humiliated by the public appearance of symptoms, but powerless to control the urges. The social consequences can be severe, and the rituals associated with OCD can destroy patients' productivity and focus, even threatening their ability to complete their studies or hold a job [source: NIMH].
Clearly, people suffering from OCD yearn for an effective therapy. Treatments include support groups and stress-management techniques, such as meditation. On the medical side, antianxiety drugs and antidepressants are both prescribed. Some of these have familiar names: Paxil, Zoloft and Prozac. They're called SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. They regulate the way the brain processes the mysterious neurotransmitter called serotonin [source: NIMH].
SSRIs have different effects depending on the patient. Some of these drugs can create heightened tolerance and dependence in the body, leading to withdrawal symptoms and other complications if the patient attempts to change therapies. The drugs' side effects, such as decreased libido, may themselves be sources of depression, as well as more severe medical problems such as blood clotting disorders [source: Harvard Health]. If acetyl-L-carnitine helps increase the effects of these drugs, it could allow patients to lower their dosages, reducing the incidence of some side effects.
The OCD Recovery Center lists acetyl-L-carnitine as a medicinal complement (that is, not a central therapy, but a treatment that may act to strengthen another therapy), citing a study that indicated acetyl-L-carnitine had benefits in improving visual memory and short-term memory. These effects could help patients with OCD regain some of their focus.
As with virtually every study involving acetyl-L-carnitine, more research is needed. Patients with OCD should check with their doctors before starting a regimen of acetyl-L-carnitine and those who do start a course of supplements should monitor their dosage and symptoms carefully.
What's the bottom line about acetyl-L-carnitine? It's probably more important for helping people with cognitive problems than for tweaking your weight-loss efforts.
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