5 Natural Ways to Ease Tourette Syndrome

Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder. It has no specific cause, but multiple factors can make a child prone to the condition.

 Boy blinking his eyes while smiling

Named after French neurologist Georges Albert Gilles de la Tourette, Tourette syndrome describes a neurological disorder that affects the brain and nerves of young children. The condition isn’t preventable or treatable, and involves sudden, involuntary movements (motor tics) or sounds (vocal tics).

Tourette syndrome can be seen in 3-9/1000 children, with the first episode occurring between four to six years of age. However, most children diagnosed with the condition will likely have remission by the time they turn 21.  

Here are the causes of Tourette syndrome and ways to manage symptomatic flare-ups efficiently.

Pregnant woman holding a cigarette and cup of beverage in her right hand while placing her left hand on her abdomen
Cigarette smoking during pregnancy can increase a child’s risk of developing Tourette syndrome.

What Makes Tics, Tick?  

The exact reasons behind Tourette syndrome are yet to be clinically ascertained. However, there are several factors associated with the condition. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) states that it possibly relates to Chronic Slow Shock-Wind (慢惊风). It is a documented TCM medical condition that shares similar clinical characteristics to Tourette syndrome, and is perceived to transpire from pathogens like Wind and Fire. These are responsible for nervous system symptoms due to their turbulent and unsettling nature.

Chronic cases of Tourette syndrome stem from Spleen Qi (vital life force) and Kidney and Liver Yin (cooling energy and body fluids) Deficiencies. “A Spleen Deficiency induces the accumulation and formation of phlegm. Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiencies result in malnourishment, decreasing suppleness in muscles and sinews,” explains Real Health Medical Senior Physician Brandon Yew.

It’s a gender thing  

Boys are three to four times more likely than girls to develop Tourette syndrome. It will usually last for weeks or months. 

Examples of simple motor tics are spontaneous eye blinking, eyebrow raising, shoulder shrugging, and turning or jerking of the head. Meanwhile, simple vocal tics include coughing, sniffing, yawning, and clearing the throat.

Like parents, like children 

Genetics studies show there is a 50% risk of parents passing down Tourette syndrome to their children if they have been diagnosed with the condition. Separately, a child may be more susceptible if: 

  • They have an infection 
  • They had a low birthweight 
  • A woman smokes during her pregnancy 
  • A woman experiences complications during childbirth 
A child asleep in bed while holding a teddy bear as a woman caresses her head with her left hand
Going to bed early and at the same time nightly can prevent the onset of Tourette syndrome.

5 Ways to Prevent and Manage Tourette Syndrome  

Tics that happen before a child turns 18 often indicate Tourette syndrome. The signs of tics should show for over a year in order for a doctor to make the diagnosis. For a correct diagnosis, a child may undergo a targeted neurological examination.

Lifestyle changes 

TCM advises that it is best to limit or avoid feeding your child fried, oily, spicy, sugary, high-fat, or high-calorie processed foods. These will embolden the Fire pathogen. Put them to sleep at a scheduled time nightly to allow for sufficient restful sleep. This is essential for replenishing yin to counterbalance excess yang energy. Awareness or mindfulness practices can also help children manage negative emotions. It will calm the pathogenic actions of the Wind and Fire pathogens.

Neuropsychological interventions 

Clinical interventions can be beneficial for elevating a child’s self-esteem and relieving depressive feelings. These evidence-based treatment options are habit reversal training, exposure and response prevention, and comprehensive behavioural interventions.

Habit reversal training involves awareness training, self-monitoring, social support and the use of a competing response. Exposure and response prevention is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy that encourages children to confront and not avoid their fears. Comprehensive behavioural interventions teach children to be aware of their tics and strategies to help reduce them. 

Pharmacology 

A healthcare provider may consider prescribing pharmaceuticals for Tourette syndrome if a person is having: 

  • Psychological disorders like depression 
  • Subjective discomfort due to pain or injury 
  • Permanent social problems, such as isolation and being vulnerable to bullying 
  • Functional interference like impairment of a child’s ability to perform academically 

The most effective medications are antipsychotics like haloperidol, pimozide, and risperidone. However, these medications carry side effects like weight gain and some can exacerbate tics.

Acupressure stimulation 

Placing fingers or a blunt object on different acupressure points, coupled with a 3-minute application of a selective amount of pressure, can also help. The acupoints are:   

  • Tai xi (KI3, 太溪), which regenerates yin to nourish the Liver and Kidneys 
  • Shen men (HT7, 神门), which improves cognition and mood by strengthening blood and qi circulation to the head  
  • Zhong wan (RN12, 中脘), which improves cognition and mood by promoting better blood and qi circulation through dispelling of phlegm 
  • Dan zhong (RN17, 膻中), which improves cognition and mood by promoting better blood and qi circulation through dispelling of phlegm and Fire  
  • San yin jiao (SP6, 三阴交), yin ling quan (SP9, 阴陵泉), and zu san li (ST36, 足三里), which improve cognition and mood by strengthening the Spleen and promoting better blood and qi circulation through dispelling of phlegm 
  • He gu (LI4, 合谷), which reduces the frequency of spasms and tics by dispelling phlegm, Wind, and Fire  
  • Tai chong (LR3, 太沖), which reduces spasms and tics through dispelling of Liver Wind and Fire and regeneration of blood and yin to calm and nourish the muscles and sinews 
  • Bai hui (DU20, 百会) and feng chi (GB20, 风池), which improve cognition and mood by promoting better blood and qi circulation through dispelling of phlegm, Wind and Fire in the orifices of the head  

Physician Yew cautions, “Acupressure only provides mild symptomatic relief for Tourette syndrome. It’s incapable of tackling the condition’s pathologies. Thus, it’s strongly recommended that a person seeks professional TCM help jointly with the advice of a medical doctor.”

Herbal formulas 

Herbal formulas may enable proper management of Tourette syndrome symptoms by addressing specific pathogens related to the condition. These include: 

  • Shen jie san (神解散), which dispels phlegm, Liver Wind, and Fire 
  • Ling jiao gou teng tang (羚角钩藤汤) can also have the same effect and replenishes yin to nourish and calm the organ system  
  • Long dan xie gan tang (龙胆泻肝汤), which clears Liver Fire and replenishes yin to nourish and calm the organ system  
  • Shi wei wen dan tang (十味温胆汤), which replenishes and strengthens Spleen qi to resolve phlegm, and  yin to nourish and calm the Liver  
  • Zhen gan xi feng tang (镇肝熄风汤), which dispels Wind and Fire and replenishes yin to calm the Liver and nourish the Kidneys  

Avoid self medication

Physician Yew reminds, “Keep in mind that Tourette syndrome is a complicated medical condition with varying pathologies. Hence, to avoid side effects that can complicate one’s medical condition, refrain from purchasing herbal formulas to self-medicate without proper consultation with a licensed TCM professional.” 

Diagnosing Tourette syndrome and taking steps to manage the condition early can help children have a close-to-normal life. Speak to a qualified TCM practitioner if you are considering the use of TCM as one of the alternative remedies. It will help ensure that the treatments prescribed are suitable to your child’s unique body constitution, while keeping side effects to a minimum.

References

  1. National Library of Medicine. 2018. Tourette Syndrome: A Mini-Review. [online] [Accessed 23 May 2022]  
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Tourette Syndrome. [online] [Accessed 23 May 2022]  
  3. International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society. Tics and Tourette Syndrome: Essential Facts for Patients. [online] [Accessed 23 May 2022] 
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Risk Factors and Causes for Tourette Syndrome. [online] [Accessed 23 May 2022] 

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