By Sherry Rogers, MD
A reader contacted us, saying a few months of allergy neutralization injections had not yet helped his Tourette symptoms. He wondered whether his high sugar intake could be a factor, adding that he craves sweets and cannot resist them. Dr. Sherry Rogers, a member of our advisory hoard, provided this article in response.
Over the years, it has been fascinating to see how many different triggers have been found by environmental physicians in various children and adults with Tourette syndrome (TS) and other tic disorders. Many have hidden sensitivities to mold, dust, chemicals, and foods that affect their tics. I have also found at least one nutritional deficiency in each of these cases. While studies have linked glucose intolerance to various central nervous system disorders, I have never seen anything written on hypoglycemia being a factor in tic disorders, although I have seen it in my practice. Let’s look at hypoglycemia, how it affects the body, and what can cause this condition:
Kevin had been a high-energy, productive professor. Over the last three years he had become increasingly fatigued and had developed facial tics. He complained of headaches, dizziness, confusion, the inability to think straight, and exhaustion. He had been to numerous physicians for physical exams, blood tests, and x-rays, but no cause had been found.
When we conducted a six-hour glucose tolerance test, we found part of the answer. This routine test is performed by having the person drink a measured amount of a sugar solution and then measuring the blood sugar level at regular intervals. Typically, when a person drinks the sugar, the level goes up to about 140 mg/dl. Within a couple of hours, it should return to the starting level. If the person has diabetes, the levels are much higher than normal; if the person has hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, the levels are lower than normal.
In Kevin’s case, the blood sugar levels were so low that they never reached normal. All the levels for the entire 6 hours were below 86. In fact, a few hours after he drank the sugar solution, his level dropped into the 50s and 40s. No wonder he felt so horrible. With proper nutritional treatment and environmental medicine, his energy level and nervous system normalized, and the tics disappeared. I have seen similar profiles in some patients with a diagnosis of Tourette syndrome. I recall reading an article that strongly suggested every patient with any type of neuropsychiatric illness should have a six-hour glucose tolerance test, and I agree.
Causes of an overactive pancreas
- A tumor could be causing the pancreas to secrete too much of its own hormone. This is rare.
- Most frequently, the gland has been trained to overproduce insulin due to diets high in sugars. Many times, when one goes on a healthier diet of grains, greens, and beans, with some high-quality protein, the pancreas can be trained to stop hypersecreting and returns to normal functioning.
- In some cases, the pancreas can be an allergic target organ. Just as the nose can hypersecrete, or “run,” when it is exposed to ragweed, dust, or mold, many physicians believe that the pancreas can hypersecrete when exposed to allergens that make it react abnormally. Unsuspected food allergy is one of the most common stimuli that can make the pancreas hyperreact. Sometimes when people undertake a rare food diet, with certain foods they feel fine and sugar levels are normal, but with other foods the sugar level takes a nose-dive and they feel shaky, irritable, headachy, tired, dizzy, and unable to think straight.
- Other factors, such as exposure to certain environmental chemicals, can affect the pancreas. Also, people who have an overgrowth of Candida yeast in their system can be especially prone to hypoglycemia and strong sugar cravings.
- Nutritional deficiencies can play a role in pancreatic functioning. For example, chromium, manganese, zinc, copper, and magnesium deficiencies are common and can cause the pancreas to react. This may increase the desire for sugar. Eating more sugar actually encourages the gland to malfunction. These mineral deficiencies can also impair the way nonpancreatic cells handle sugars, which can lead to more symptoms of low blood sugar and overwhelming sugar cravings.
- Finally, stress can play a role in abnormal pancreatic functioning. Since the pancreas is under the control of the autonomic nervous system, thoughts and emotions can alter its secretions.
Steps to Take
What can you do if you suspect hypoglycemia may be part of the puzzle of a tic disorder? First, try to document when you feel your worst, and see if there is any correlation with what you have been eating, drinking, or breathing. Have a six-hour glucose tolerance test performed. Then have your red blood cell count checked, as well as chromium, manganese, zinc, and magnesium levels. You can follow the rare food diet, and you can also culture your bedroom with special petri dishes to see if too much mold is present in your environment. Consider a formaldehyde spot test on objects in your home or office to see if they outgas too much formaldehyde. Some people find improvement from pancreatic enzymes, which are reported to break down food antigens into smaller sizes, so they are less troublesome to the gland. Once you start looking for solutions to your condition, you will be less likely to rely on medications to merely cover up the symptoms. The era of molecular and environmental medicine is here. Though we don’t yet have all the pieces to every puzzle, in many cases we can now identify the causes for symptoms and concentrate on eliminating them once and for all.
Sherry A. Rogers, MD, a renowned environmental physician and author.