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Curing Tourette’s Syndrome Part 4 – Tics and Diet

tourettes syndromeToday I want to add another piece of data to start tracking for anyone with Tourette’s Syndrome, or anyone who is trying to help someone with Tourette’s. Diet. I have paid a lot of attention to the results that my eating habits seem to have on my tics. I don’t say “cause” because once in a while any hypothesis I put out there gets proven wrong. But there are certain foods and combinations of foods that I associate with an increase in tics more reliably than others.

When I have made changes that seem to help, it’s never been anything very extreme.

When I was in my early 20s, my mom and I, both desperate as my movement disorder worsened, drove over to Salt Lake to meet with a nutritional expert. He felt sure that anyone with Tourette’s was surely just not eating properly. While I agreed that I certainly could have been eating better, I was less than enthused about his recommendations. 

I don’t remember much about that appointment except that he took some of my hair, presumably for a voodoo doll, and he made me spit into a cup for about an hour. We left his office and went to the grocery store, where we bought a bunch of almond butter, bread that was the consistency of crackers that had aged in the sun for a year, and some weird vegetable drink that was like knocking back a tumbler of vomit.

I honestly did not give it enough of a chance to work because it was all so disgusting, so I can’t really weigh in on the efficacy of the good doctor’s methods.

Just some observations from my own little experiments so far.

My Tics and nutrition

  • Caffeine usually makes my tics worse – this seems to be common knowledge among many people with Tourette’s Syndrome
  • If I eat a good breakfast (by anything good I usually mean meat or vegetables–not sugary cereal–the day’s first tics usually appear later in the day
  • Sugar seems to make things worse more often than not. This is bad news as I have a serious sweet tooth
  • Eating late at night seems to increase the chances that the next day’s tics will start early in the morning
  • Eating foods in isolation seems to help mitigate the tics. For instance, if I’m going to eat a steak, a bunch of fruit, and a piece of bread in 90 minutes, then eating each of them one at a time, with about ten minutes in between them,  generally makes me feel better than mixing everything at once
  • I can’t tell a difference between when I’m eating lots of vegetables and when I’m eating zero vegetables
  • I’m more likely to have tics when I feel hungry
  • I have fewer tic urges when I am drinking water constantly
  • Eating slowly is better for me than eating quickly
  • If I stop when I am full, my tics will generally not be as severe

A lot of the things I have noticed fall in line with a lot of what is considered healthy anyways. The challenge I see in so many children with tics is that their eating habits are…well, they’re like those of most kids. They like snacks. They don’t want to eat “healthy” as I understand it, and if the parents are not on board, then kids can get into bad eating patterns through no fault of their own.

I’m not immune to this, by the way. My son thinks we need to go to the bank every day just so he can have a lollipop from the teller.

I’m not qualified to give nutritional advice, but for kids with Tourette’s, I do think that it’s worth paying attention to what they eat, when they eat, how much they eat, what speed they eat at, and then noting whether this makes the tics worse, better, or if you can’t tell at all.

Maybe you’ll spot a trend that will give you something to try. I’ll definitely have more to say about this in the future but to date, my nutrition experiments with Tourettes are in their infancy.

So, for those of you who read because you have tics, or are working with someone with tics, have you noticed anything with your nutrition patterns that we can throw into the mix here?


This is part 4 in a series. Please read:

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jen H December 9, 2010, 3:29 pm

    There is so much to like about this series, thanks for sharing it with me and the rest of your readers.

  • Zooey December 15, 2010, 1:35 pm

    * Caffeine is a CNS stimulant that makes everyone more jittery.
    *Skipping breakfast will lead to being more tired at the end of the day which also increases tics.
    *Eating late at night, quitting when full, not eating junk food, etc: None of this is a cure for Tourette’s it’s just general nutritional advice.

    You might as well suggest being middle class, working a non-stressful job, eating well because that will help *any* disorder.

    • Josh Hanagarne December 15, 2010, 1:53 pm

      It’s just a post of general nutritional observations from my own life.

      I’m trying to figure out how I think it relates to my Tourette’s. And these are only observations from my case. I have had discussions with many people with tics who are seeing different results and do not see the same things I am, even with regards to caffeine, junk food, or skipping breakfast. Some can eat whatever they want and it never seems to affect them, at any time of day. Others have more drastic shifts than I do.

      If you’re expecting earth-shattering deviations from the norms of what comprises sound nutritional advice, you won’t find it here. I stand by what I said: “Just some observations from my own little experiments so far.”

      • Jerri August 3, 2012, 8:53 pm

        Thanks for your input Josh. My 9 yr. old son was just diagnosed with tourettes this week. Any information or suggestions are welcomed for parents that are new to this disorder.

        • Josh Hanagarne August 3, 2012, 9:28 pm

          Jerri, let me know any time you’d like to talk. I’m always happy to compare notes.

  • Sarah March 10, 2011, 8:08 pm

    I just read that yeast in the diet will create chemicals in the intestines that will affect brain inhibitors, causing them to fire at random. This seems to be consistent with what you have posted. What do you think?

  • MasterProp May 12, 2011, 1:47 am

    Yeah, caffeine does tend to have an affect for me, too. Unfortunately, so does Adderall, but I can’t function without my ADD under control, so I can’t cut that out. But yeah, especially right after it kicks in, terrible tics.

    And the thing about the water. Yes, that helps me as well. I drink a lot of water anyways, but I noticed that if I’m in a situation where I don’t have access to my water bottle, then it flares up worse.

    As for eating slowly, I usually eat slowly anyways, and I tried to compare it with eating quickly, but since I was making myself eat quickly for the sole purpose to find out, I’m sure it skewed the results.

    One of my problems is that sometimes I’ll think that I’ve found a decent way to hold them back, like for instance, I was focused on a computer project with my mom, and while I was focused, my blinking tics diminished. However, my mom soon pointed out that my shoulder tic had gotten much worse (I was so focused I didn’t even realize I was twitching my shoulder every 5 seconds). So… that plan failed.

    I’d rather steer clear of any more meds besides the Adderall, though, so I guess I’ll just deal with them…

  • Sydney August 31, 2011, 9:21 am

    Ive found the Gluten free Casein free diet works quite well. Also increasing Magnesium, vitamin B, omega 3 fatty acids and Also Nystatin helps eliminate the yeast in intestines. Getting rid of Magnesium Antagonist reallly helps as well. Is anyone fond of the GFCF diet? and how has it worked for others.

  • Anita November 14, 2011, 7:40 am

    My daughter is taking fish oil 1000mgs a day. It did initially help with all the eye tics, but still having all the rest of them. Doc said to increase the EPA & DHA. The higher of those two the better.

  • Susy August 11, 2012, 3:22 pm

    I have a cousin that was diagnosed with Tourette’s as a child. They brought it pretty much under control by following a strict diet with him; absolutely no sugar or processed foods of any kind. His symptoms also seemed to be aggravated by electronics such as you would find in the TV section of a store. Lawn that was recently sprayed also brought the symptoms.

  • MISTY DESPINO October 26, 2012, 10:02 am