Can coffee cure OCD?

Can coffee cure OCD? That was the sound byte on the news program before quickly heading to a commercial. Of course, my interest, was piqued. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that the sufferer may attempt to relieve with repeated behaviours. In the current Covid-19 environment, while stressful for all of us, must be beyond nightmarish for those with OCD behaviour such as germaphobia.

“Cure” is a strong word, and naturally it was just a hook to lure viewers back to the news program. Coffee isn’t “curing OCD,” however, it may help with obsessive compulsive cleaning as a new study finds that a cup of coffee was effective at reducing intrusive thoughts and decreasing obsessive compulsive cleaning behaviour.

Published in the December 2020 issue of The Journal of Anxiety Disorders, the study examines whether manipulating arousal can facilitate inhibition and the resistance to compulsive cleanse by exploring how long participants could refrain from hand washing.

Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel) recruited 47 participants (6 males, 40 females, and 1 gender fluid, ages ranging from 20 to 30) with high contamination fears for the study. Subjects were recruited from the university participant recruitment pool and from treatment-seeking OCD individuals who reached out to the lab to participate in research.

Participants were divided into a caffeine group or a non-caffeine group. Each volunteer was given a cup of either regular or decaffeinated coffee to drink. They were then asked to touch a mock ‘dirty’ diaper — and then wait as long as possible before they washed their hands.

Researchers found that volunteers in the caffeine group exhibited less distress and lower urge to wash their hands both after touching the diaper and while waiting to cleanse than the group who had been given decaf coffee. Furthermore, they found that after drinking coffee, subjects could wait twice as long to compulsively cleanse for about twice as long as those in the caffeine-free group.

In an interview in the UK’s Daily Mail, the study’s author and psychologist Hadar Naftalovich, said, “Our research demonstrates how arousal can help to stem compulsive behaviour. [It] demonstrates how manipulating arousal can help to stem compulsive behaviour — this could help clinicians understand the fluctuations in compulsive symptoms, discover new treatment targets, and deliver better treatment outcomes.”

The team of researchers stated that the current findings support the notion that the arousal provided by caffeine, increases inhibition — which, in turn, can help to stop compulsive thoughts. Though not a “cure,” they are positive findings, and yet another health benefit coffee-consuming may provide.

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