Troubled by Tourette Syndrome?

My four-year-old son has just been diagnosed with Tourette syndrome. It’s moderate to severe. Are there any alternatives to traditional medications? What can I do naturally, and how can I find an expert in the field?

– April 2, 2007

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neuropsychiatric disorder that consists of involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. It appears to have a genetic basis, although the condition may be related to complications of childbirth or strep-induced autoimmunity. Most cases are mild and don’t require medication, which is only modestly useful anyway. By adulthood, tics diminish or disappear entirely in 85 percent of those affected.

I discussed your question with Sandy Newmark, M.D., a pediatrician here in Tucson who told me that when your son is a little older (six or seven), mind-body techniques may help him manage his TS. Although the presence of tics is biological, their intensity and frequency usually is stress-related. A specialist in clinical hypnosis, biofeedback or guided imagery may be able to teach him how to relieve the stress that can bring on the tics and to suppress tics for short periods, if necessary.

Some anecdotal evidence suggests that food sensitivities may worsen Tourette’s symptoms, so it can be helpful to identify and eliminate any problematic foods. You might also try giving your son Rescue Remedy, a homeopathic floral essence that works well for stress and acute anxiety in kids. In addition, Dr. Newmark recommends omega-3 fatty acid supplements (which may improve neuronal function in the brain). He also suggests supplementing with inositol, a sugar-like compound that improves the functions of neurotransmitters. An internet search will give you information on its use in neuropsychiatric disorders. Inositol is readily available; dosage is based on a child’s weight.

As parents, your role is to give your son self-confidence and coping skills. Even TS children with severe tics can lead successful lives if they have a strong support network of friends and family. Explain your son’s condition to his playmates and their parents so they can understand and accept behavior that may seem odd.

Nearly half of children with TS have obsessive-compulsive disorder or attention-deficit disorder as well, either of which can lead to difficulty with concentration and behavior in school. When your son is ready for school, be sure that his teachers and the school staff understand his condition so that they can determine whether modifications can be made that might help your child succeed in the classroom. You can get educational materials, support, and leads to physicians in your area who treat Tourette patients via the Tourette Syndrome Association’s Web site:

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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