Written by: Piper Gibson, Guest Writer
Tic disorders may appear as sudden, repetitive, involuntary movements or noises which last for several seconds to minutes at a time. Tics generally begin around age six in children but can appear any time between three and 18 years. When tics appear, it can be a scary situation for parents who don't have the tools or knowledge to help their children.
Many times, a child starts blinking their eyes erratically or jerking their neck to one side. As parents, we feel lost when we are not sure what triggered the tic in the first place. Tics are viewed as a neurological issue, but in reality, we need to be looking beyond the brain.
Tic disorders are not considered life-threatening problems but like your car's check engine light, a tic is trying to tell you that something isn't right under the hood. There are many possible tic disorder triggers, including medical conditions like strep throat, food allergies, thyroid issues, autoimmune diseases, and more which can all send tics into overdrive. All of these underlying imbalances may cause the immune system to go haywire. In addition, chronic inflammation can send tic disorders on an unstoppable path.
Chronic inflammation is the primary driver of chronic disease and the underlying cause of chronic illnesses. So, if your child has a tic disorder, it's time to explore where that inflammation is coming from.
Inflammation is an integral part of your immune response and the first line of defense for your body against harmful stimuli like germs and toxins.
But inflammation, as with all things in life, is not black or white; Inflammation can be necessary but also harmful, which means that a specific type of inflammation has to be dealt with accordingly.
When you get sick or twist your ankle, your immune system goes to work; Inflammation is a good thing. For example, you have a fever, redness, and swelling but after a few days, you feel better. This inflammation is a particular type of inflammation called acute inflammation.
Acute inflammation saves lives when it fights off an infection or injury, but inflammation becomes the real problem if you live in this state chronically throughout your life. This chronic inflammation, also known as systemic inflammation, is caused by chronic stress, food sensitivities/intolerances, sensitivity to chemicals, imbalance in the microbiome (good bacteria-bad bacteria ratio), toxicity, and environmental factors. When we are exposed to specific triggers, the body produces small proteins called cytokines. These cytokines facilitate the response of the body to threats. Cytokines can be measured and used to assess inflammation levels in the body.
It is evident from looking at study after study that chronic inflammation leads to chronic disease.
Are tic's a chronic disease, in my opinion, yes! Let break down the word disease: a condition that prevents the body or mind from working correctly. When your child is experiencing tics, their body is in a state of DIS-ease. When you are healthy and symptom-free, your body is at ease. A tic disorder is an apparent symptom of a body that is not at ease. A 2019 study correlates chronic inflammation and immune dysregulation in the pathogenesis of pediatric-onset obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and tic disorders such as Tourette syndrome (TS)(1). Whether autoimmune conditions like Lupus or asthma or even mental health issues, chronic diseases can all be linked back to inflammation.
Your immune system and neurological system are connected, and when your immune system is always turned on, we can see the impact on the neurological system (the brain). For example, inflammation in the brain may be linked to underlying infections in the gut.
The gut and the brain are connected, and this connection can have an impact on your child's tics. Let's start with the Vagus nerve, which connects the gut and brain. It controls the release of hormones, including serotonin, which reduces inflammation and is essential for healthy gut function. Toxicity in the body can damage this nerve, which can impact brain function and increase Tics. For example, toxins released by harmful bacteria such as yeast, fungus, and parasites can contribute to inflammation that degrades the Vagus nerve. Toxins from medications, artificial sweeteners, and food additives also contribute to this problem.
Gut health includes the health of your microbiome (gut flora or gut bugs). Gut bugs control several bodily functions, including digestion, immunity, and the central nervous system (including tic disorders). Information from hundreds of studies shows how important it is to support healthy gut microbiota (gut bugs) to improve immune, neurological and digestive issues for children with Tics.
Additional symptoms of poor gut health include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), OCD, mood disorders, meltdowns, or sensory issues. Sleep issues, stomach aches, constipation or diarrhea, rashes, hives, and other skin issues can also point towards problems in the gut. It can also take a lot of personal energy to cope with pervasive tic symptoms when you feel that you cannot control them. This can cause our children to use more nutrients leading to nutrient deficiency.
Inflammation may also stem from food sensitivities like wheat gluten, followed by dairy. So if you introduce gluten around age one and tics start to show up around age four or five, it's possible that gluten could be PART of the cause. Also, as gluten and other stressors break down the gut, we may see more gut issues that impact the brain.
Food sensitivities are a delayed reaction to certain foods, and It can take from 48-72 hours for the body to react to something you are sensitive to. The human body is such a complex organism that it can be challenging to pinpoint food sensitivities. That is why food sensitivities are hard to pinpoint without testing. For example, people do not associate what they ate on Monday with how they felt on Wednesday.
Food sensitivities involve a delayed immune system reaction, and the symptoms vary from person to person. What bothers me may not bother you! Food can have an impact on the gut and the brain. However, some people experience very different symptoms like sleepiness, depression, tummy aches, headaches, and more!
Many people find that eliminating trigger foods from their diet while adding high-quality protein sources such as turkey or chicken breasts, full of amino acids, has helped significantly reduce the number and severity of tics, ADHD, and OCD symptoms.
However, chronic inflammation can be caused by many more factors that you will also want to consider. Environmental Toxins, heavy metals, and biotoxins can contribute to inflammation as well. We know that strep infections are tied to PANDAS diagnosis, and other underlying conditions like Lyme’s can cause PANS.
Genetic predisposition may also contribute to inflammation. For example, if you are genetically predisposed to chronic inflammation and experience a triggering event, your genes may be playing a role here.
There are many moving parts and pieces of the puzzle when it comes to tic disorders. Tic disorders are multi-layered, and it may not always be apparent why they are happening. Virtually every chronic neurological condition has inflammation at its core which then manifests into any other symptoms. A tic is a symptom, and it is telling you that something more serious is going on. Although tics are labeled as a neurological issue, the brain and nervous system may be taking a hit from other underlying issues.
Piper Gibson, Guest Writer Brainz Magazine
Piper Gibson is a Doctor of Advanced Holistic Nutrition, Traditional Naturopathic Doctor, and is a Board Certified Doctor of Natural Medicine. Piper helps scared, frustrated, and overwhelmed parents get access to the tools and testing they need so they can get to the bottom of their child's neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, Tics/Tourette's, Anxiety, SPD, and ASD.
She is the founder of Regenerating Health and the creator of Foundations to Flourish. This sixteen-week program teaches parents holistic methods that will restore their child's health in the face of a potentially confusing and worrying diagnosis.
After going from stay-at-home mom to children's holistic health expert, Piper has been able to help many families just like hers to gain control of their child's neurodevelopmental issues using food, functional lab testing, and natural approaches.
She is the Corporate Educator for GX Sciences and was recently featured in Authority Magazine. She can also be heard on The Autism Wellbeing Podcast and 15-Minute Matrix.
1. Krause, Daniela & Müller, Norbert. (2012). The Relationship between Tourette’s Syndrome and Infections. The open neurology journal. 6. 124-8. 10.2174/1874205X01206010124.