Editor & Founder of Conditional Publications, Vrinda Pendred, discusses common supplements used to treat Tourette’s Syndrome, and which foods to eat if you prefer not to take lots of pills.
So far in this series on Tourette’s Syndrome, we have discussed:
- What Tourette’s really is, from an insider perspective.
- The causes and triggers of Tourette’s.
- Prescription medication for Tourette’s.
- The use of anti-depressants in treating Tourette’s.
- Alternative treatments for Tourette’s.
- Extreme treatments for Tourette’s.
If you missed any of these articles, please click one of the links above to read them.
Today, we will discuss some of the key supplements people often take to treat Tourette’s Syndrome, as well as the foods richest in these nutrients, if you would prefer to incorporate them in your regular diet.
Please bear in mind that I am not recommending any specific supplements or diet / vitamin regimes. For that reason, I will not be quoting suggested dosages. The purpose of this article is simply to collate information about some of the supplements most commonly used by Tourette’s patients. I have also not listed every health benefit linked to the nutrients mentioned, as each would merit an article to itself, if I did so.
I would also note that while some supplements are commonly taken specifically to improve brain / nervous system health, others are taken simply to maintain optimal physical health, which reduces stress on the body. In theory, this should then reduce symptoms of Tourette’s, as it is exacerbated by stress.
Magnesium is a metal that is necessary for healthy bones, muscles and digestion; and – importantly – a healthy nervous system. Today, people commonly do not consume enough magnesium in their daily diet, and so it is often recommended to take some form of supplement. If you would prefer to get your magnesium ‘hit’ without purchasing vitamins, it’s a good idea to eat more of the following:
- Whole grains
- Broccoli, squash, and green leafy vegetables
- Seeds and nuts (almonds are a must)
Some other foods such as dairy, chocolate and coffee are also high in magnesium. However, people with neurological conditions such as Tourette’s often respond badly to dairy, caffeine and processed sugars (discussed later), so I wouldn’t suggest consuming a lot of these, magnesium-rich or not. That said, I find a small square of high-quality dark chocolate every day or two has no ill effect on me, so this might be a good alternative for you, too. It is also common to treat Tourette’s by taking baths with Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate), although I have not yet tried this myself.
Antioxidants are molecules that prevent the ‘oxidation’ (increased oxygen content) of other molecules, the idea being that oxidation can lead to chemical reactions that might damage other cells, for instance in the brain or nervous system. The most common antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E, and selenium.
Vitamin A is the converted form of beta carotene. Beta carotene is found naturally in certain plants, which are consumed by animals and then converted to vitamin A in the animals’ bodies. If you eat meat, you get vitamin A in that form – particularly from liver. However, too much vitamin A is dangerous, especially if you are pregnant (it can cause miscarriage). For that reason, it’s recommended to add more beta carotene to your diet, instead, which can be found in:
- Sweet potato
- Winter squash
- Peppers (bell peppers)
- Brussels sprouts
Vitamin E is not only an antioxidant, but it also prevents damage to essential fat cells in the body – important for anyone, but especially if you are aiming to treat Tourette’s; as you will see later in this article, one of the suggested supplements for Tourette’s is fatty acids. Vitamin E can be found in:
- Sweet potato
- Wheat germ
- Sunflower seeds
- Palm oil
- Butternut squash
- Olive oil
Selenium helps recycle vitamin C in the body, and works with vitamin E to prevent oxidation, as well as helping relieve thyroid stress. It can be found in:
- Brazil nuts
- Many fish
- Chicken, turkey, and beef liver
Lecithin is an essential fat (good for the brain) commonly used to treat nervous conditions such as anxiety and depression. There is some debate over the benefits of the most commonly found form, soya lecithin. However, different kinds of lecithin can be found in other foods, if you are adverse to eating soya:
- Dairy and eggs
- Brussels sprouts
- Legumes (kidney beans, black beans, peanuts and soya beans)
Amino acids are essential to the creation of proteins (which make up 20% of the human body), as well as the metabolic process. Therefore, they are vital to maintaining optimal physical health.
Meats such as pork, beef, turkey or chicken are naturally high in amino acids. However, if you’re vegetarian (like me), it can be difficult to consume enough amino acids in your daily diet, unless you have quite a lot of animal by-products like eggs and dairy. Again, this might not suit you – either because of your dietary preferences, or because of food allergies / intolerances. In that case, you might want to take supplements like glycine or taurine.
A word of warning: taurine is added as a stimulant in many energy drinks, so this might not be the best option for children – albeit there have been no official studies (as yet) confirming this.
Vegetarian foods naturally rich in amino acids (although not as high as meats or seafood) include:
- Lentils, chickpeas, black beans and pinto beans
- Almonds, walnuts and sunflower seeds
- Whole grains – particularly quinoa, containing all essential amino acids
- Soya beans – again, containing all essential amino acids
It is important to note that some people have argued that soya is not good for you in large quantities, as it increases oestrogen levels, which can impact dopamine levels. I mentioned in a previous article that dopamine excess can cause symptoms of ‘drug-induced psychosis or schizophrenia’. I highly doubt you can consume enough soya in a day to cause that much damage. However, excess oestrogen in women is also linked with hormonal conditions such as polycystic ovaries and, therefore, infertility (for that matter, it may be linked with infertility in men, too). Yet, you find soya in just about everything pre-packaged, these days; it’s hard to avoid it. In my household, we all refer to soya beans as ‘devil beans’!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3, -6 and -9 are fatty acids essential (particularly -6 and -9) in brain health and mood stability. The modern diet is oversaturated in Omega-6, which is why it is recommended that we consume more Omega-3, either through food or supplements.
If you eat fish, this is easy. If not, you can get your dose of Omega-3 through consuming flaxseed oil, hemp oil and walnuts. If none of these sounds appealing to you, try a good quality flaxseed oil supplement in capsule form.
Probiotics are live bacteria essential for maintaining healthy digestion and mood stability. There is an endless amount of information about probiotics floating around the media, these days, but some key foods containing probiotics are:
Bear in mind quite a lot of these are dairy products, so if this is a dietary issue, try taking a good-quality probiotic supplement with a high strain value – in the billions.
Zinc is an important part of normal human bodily functioning on just about every level, as well as acting as a ‘nerve tranquiliser’. It’s common for people to be zinc-deficient, particularly if you’re vegetarian. Key foods containing zinc are:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Cocoa powder
This is a complex subject (no pun intended!) because there are so many key B-vitamins, all of which are said to work together to ‘tranquilize’ the nervous system. That said, certain B-vitamins can actually keep you awake (B12 on its own makes my heart race with anxiety), so it’s best not to take them at night.
As a brief summary, the various B-vitamins can be found in the following foods:
- B1 (Thiamine) – peas, fruit, eggs, whole grains, liver
- B2 (Riboflavin) – milk, eggs, rice
- B3 (Niacin, found in two forms: nicotinic acid and nicotinamide) – meat, fish, wheat flour, eggs, milk
- Pantothenic acid – meats, potatoes, porridge, tomatoes, eggs, broccoli, whole grains
- B6 (Pyridoxine) – Pork, chicken, turkey, fish, bread, porridge, wheat germ, brown rice, eggs, vegetables, soya beans, peanuts, milk, potatoes
- B7 (Biotin) – made naturally by the bacteria in the stomach, so probiotics are essential for the creation of B7 in the body
- Folate (not the same as folic acid, which is the synthetic form that some people have difficulty processing) – Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, liver, spinach, asparagus, peas, chickpeas
- B12 – meat, salmon, cod, milk, cheese, eggs (as a supplement, some people with Tourette’s take B12 injections)
A Word About Niacin (Vitamin B3)
It is also recommended that you take niacin supplements in addition to a general B-complex vitamin, because the body requires so much more niacin. Years ago, I tried a vitamin regime that included very high doses of ‘non-flush’ niacin. I didn’t understand what ‘non-flush’ meant and (stupidly) didn’t investigate further.
On day one, I took the recommended dose…of normal niacin. In minutes, the skin all over my body went bright, bright red, like the worst sunburn of my life. And just like a sunburn, the skin felt hot and dry, like I hadn’t had water in days. I was terrified I had done myself irreparable damage, or might even die.
I quickly did some online research and learned that niacin dilates blood vessels, which creates a sensation of warmth and flushes the skin. When it’s as bad as it was for me, it’s called ‘niacin saturation’. I also read that I would probably be okay, as long as I didn’t take that dose again – because repeated saturation can be very dangerous.
Some doctors recommend starting at a much smaller dose and then building your tolerance for niacin, to prevent saturation. There are also ‘non-flush’ forms, as mentioned, called niacinamide and inositol hexaniacinate. However, while some call these miracle cures, others say the non-flush form has no effect. In my case, the non-flush form had no potency. I expect the effect varies from person to person.
Although this is another amino acid, I mention it separately because it is necessary for the production of vitamin B3 (niacin) in the body. It can be found naturally in the following foods:
- Brewer’s yeast
- Brown rice
- Dairy products
- Nuts and seeds
- Peanuts (a legume, not a nut!)
Apparently, the synthetic form has been banned in many countries, so it’s best to avoid a supplement, even if one is available.
In addition to what you should eat, there is a long list of common ‘trigger’ foods and other allergens to avoid if you have Tourette’s. The Henry Spink Foundation lists these as follows:
- Chocolate / other sweets
- Cane sugar
- Artificial flavours, sweeteners and preservatives (including MSG)
- Dairy products
- Orange juice
- Nightshade foods (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, aubergine)
- Dust / mould / perfumes
- Chlorine / other chemicals
Putting It All Together
If you’re like me, maybe you find articles detailing different vitamin and dietary regimes overwhelming and confusing. There’s so much to consider, and so much overlapping information. I always wish someone would just make a table charting exactly which foods are good for what. For that reason, I’ve made a table summarising everything written so far in this article. Right-click on the following link and choose ‘save as’ to download this table:
Across the top of the table, you will find the different nutrients mentioned in this article (apart from B7, which is made by good bacteria in the gut). Down the left-hand column is a list of the foods mentioned. I have then placed a Y (for ‘Yes’) next to each food under the nutrient it contains. To make things even easier, I have highlighted in green any foods that contain two nutrients mentioned on the table, and I have highlighted in yellow any foods that contain more than two. If you can’t imagine having all those foods every week, maybe focus on getting the yellows in there on a regular basis.
Finally, I have placed all meat and animal by-products at the bottom of the list, in case you are vegetarian or have any allergies to dairy (very common in people with Tourette’s and related conditions).
As I mentioned earlier, years ago, I tried a heavy-duty vitamin regime to try to treat my Tourette’s. It resulted in a terrifying experience of niacin saturation, which I didn’t dare repeat the following day. However, miraculously…the supplements worked.
After about a half hour of niacin-flush-terror, my skin returned to normal and I left for work. I sat on the top deck of a red London bus and stared out into the brilliant sunshine and it hit me: I had stopped ticcing.
Now, normally when I have that thought, it’s shortly after waking up – and the instant I think it, I start ticcing uncontrollably. But this time, nothing happened. I continued to sit, tic-free, in the sunshine. I was stunned.
I arrived at work, still expecting the tics to come. I thought of all the movements I could have been making, but somehow the urge had just melted away. It felt like, sure, I could tic…but I didn’t feel like it. I’d never known such a feeling before.
Lunch time came and I went for a walk around Marylebone High Street. I remember turning the corner around a butcher shop called The Ginger Pig, and thinking, This must be what it’s like for other people. This must be how they think and feel – with a clear head, no endless thoughts racing through their minds, no uncontrollable movements, just…stillness.
And then I cried, in the middle of a busy London road. I made my way toward Paddington Street Gardens and cried and cried. I couldn’t stop – because I’d never realised just what a burden I’d been living with until it had been taken away; I’d never known just what I’d been missing.
And I knew it would all end. I couldn’t repeat the exercise. I couldn’t overdose on niacin again.
The next day, I took non-flush niacin and all those supplements had no effect. I kept up the vitamin regime until the tablets ran out (I’d spent a lot of money on them!), which was maybe two months. My Tourette’s symptoms never got any better. But I don’t consider it a waste, because those vitamins are so important for your general health; I’m sure they helped in some way.
On the other hand, I’ve read many people’s stories online saying they had some degree of success with these supplements, or by changing their diets. So, as ever, I believe it depends on the person. It’s definitely worth a try. If it doesn’t work, at least you’ve improved your general physical health.
I also find that reducing my intake of cow’s milk (apart from live natural yogurt, which doesn’t affect me the same way) has helped in multiple ways, including treating a hormonal condition, improving mood stability, reducing anxiety and increasing energy levels. I also have far fewer illnesses throughout the year.
After four articles, we have finally reached the end of this discussion on the various treatments for Tourette’s Syndrome. There are others out there, such as herbalism, homeopathy or acupuncture – just as I’m certain there are other supplements or medications being trialled – but it is such a complex subject that there is not room to talk about it all.
I have tried just about everything, short of surgery, and nothing has ever really worked for me. The niacin incident was the end of my search for a ‘cure’. Once I’d run out of options – once I was forced to see just what I was living with and the long future that lay ahead of me – I moved into a new phase in the grief process I hadn’t realised I’d been caught in – which is what we’ll be discussing next time.
Be sure to subscribe to this blog, so you don’t miss out on future articles. And if you have any experience with any of the supplements / dietary regimes detailed in this article, please do share them in the comments box below.
Finally, if you’d like to read a detailed depiction of what Tourette’s is really like to live with, please read my short story The Passenger, available on Amazon Kindle and the Kindle phone/tablet app. US Readers UK Readers
Until next time….
Vrinda Pendred is a graduate of English with Creative Writing at Brunel University. She completed work experience with Random House and proofread for Mandala Publishing. She is married with two children and lives in Hertfordshire, England, where she does freelance editing and proofreading. She is also a writer, and you can learn more about her personal work here.
Vrinda has five neurological conditions: Tourette’s Syndrome, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, ADHD, High-Functioning Autism and bipolar disorder. In 2010, she founded Conditional Publications with the intention of providing a creative outlet for people, and (hopefully) changing a few minds out there about what neurological disorders really are – including not just the limitations, pain or frustration, but also the more positive, beneficial ‘symptoms’ of these strange conditions.
She made three contributions to Conditional Publications’ debut release Check Mates: A Collection of Fiction, Poetry and Artwork about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, by People with OCD. Since then, she has released a novel entitled The Ladder, inspired by her personal struggle with bipolar disorder, as well as a number of short stories, and a YA sci-fi /fantasy series called The Wisdom, all available for purchase from Amazon.