We raised our son in a beautiful area of Florida; people come from around the world to vacation here. But for us, we didn’t care in the least where we were living. We just wanted to spare our son the intense pain he was going through.
When he was 10 years old, our son David almost died from debilitating conventional medications for a serious case of Tourette syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Fortunately, with professional help and self-determination, David was weaned from those drugs, and was then healed through natural approaches.
After almost losing our son I feel a moral obligation to share our story. I pray that others who may be in need of answers, as we were, may find the path they need.
David’s early health journey
Our son has genetically-inherited Tourette syndrome. The initial symptoms came on gradually, starting at around age five.
Initial tics were eye-rolling and throat-clearing. A practitioner advised us that David’s eye-rolling was due to his weak vision, for which he got corrective glasses. His throat-clearing was dismissed as allergies. Next, although our son was very bright and artistic, an educational psychologist said he had attention deficit disorder. He also received a diagnosis of central auditory processing disorder and sensory dysfunction. He was given an Individual Educational Plan at school.
About two years later, symptoms worsened. It was just before David’s 10th birthday. Multiple severe tics (including some that were self-injurious), major OCD symptoms, and depression came on very suddenly. Along with this were anxiety and incredibly intense symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Our son went from being outgoing, bright, and social to being withdrawn, anxious, antisocial, phobic, and disinterested in everything.
Examples of his OCD were repetitive actions to get things “just right,” obsessive fears, and phobias. A pediatric psychiatrist later told us that David exhibited “Tourettic OCD,” a condition in which tics and OCD tend to morph into one another.
We took David to a neurologist, who diagnosed Tourette syndrome and recommended the antipsychotic medication Haldol. We were initially resistant to it, but sadly, under pressure from his school, we relented. (Editor: Haloperidol or Haldol used to be the medication of choice for Tourette syndrome, and is now used less often due to safety concerns.)
David was on standard prescription medication for almost a year but experienced nasty side effects. The drug therapy did not make much of an improvement with his tics, and it worsened his obsessive-compulsive tendencies considerably. Haldol left him “zombified,” with no motivation. Eventually, it resulted in a drug-induced psychosis, for which he was hospitalized.
Unfortunately, the treatment he received in the hospital included more medications, including Luvox (an antidepressant) and Zyprexa (an atypical antipsychotic). Things went from bad to horrifying.
At one point, David was strapped to a hospital bed to control his movements, biting his bottom lip in an uncontrollable repetitive tic. The staff was actually infusing Haldol into him! When I begged them to stop, the doctor said “It’s either this or we transfer him to the Psych Ward. You just have to be prepared that he may need a long-term institution.”
When I suggested it was the Haldol that was making him psychotic, they treated me like an ignorant hysterical person. But I had already started reading Peter Breggin’s book Your Drug May Be Your Problem.
When they released David back into my care, I started taking him to Dr. Tanya Murphy at Shands Clinic in Gainesville. Initially, I went for a PANDAS evaluation (it was negative). But her team also helped wean him off the medications. Meanwhile, I had to withdraw him from school.
One day I went to visit a friend who did art therapy for terminally-ill patients. She had a print copy of the Latitudes newsletter on her table, and the rest is history. (Latitudes is now online-only.) After reading the first issue, for the first time I had hope that we would find help.
I will always be grateful for the encouragement and direction the Latitudes newsletters gave me. In fact, out of gratitude, I remain a member of Latitudes.org to support it, even though we no longer need it for ourselves. I share the website and director Sheila DeMare’s books whenever I can.
We began natural therapies that I truly believed saved his life–no hyperbole! We saw an integrative medical doctor who was trained conventionally but specialized in natural medicine. She and her team worked together on my son’s testing and treatment.
No one before this had made any effort to learn what was actually causing David’s imbalances. The whole process was a real eye-opener and made so much sense.
One of his doctors found David had high mercury levels, and efforts began to detoxify him from heavy metals. We relied mostly on a chlorella supplement, followed by the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid. During this time, he was also seeing an excellent acupuncture therapist specializing in other natural therapies like reflexology, Chinese cupping detox, and biofeedback resonance therapy.
Notably, a doctor identified a yeast overgrowth of Candida albicans in his digestive tract. I understand this is not a unique finding, with many families and integrative practitioners reporting the same. In my son’s case, we found Candida Clear by the supplement company NOW to effectively eradicate the candida. (The product contains herbs and caprylic acid, a fatty acid.)
He was also on a protocol of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids approved by his doctor. Of these, I always suspected that magnesium seemed the most effective in helping to calm his tics. In that connection, I also found Epsom salt baths were beneficial. For years, David had a bath most evenings with 2 cups Epsom salts in a tub of warm water and approximately a 20-minute soak. He drank cupfuls of pure water or chamomile tea while in the tub, too. He used Epsom salt foot baths and sometimes soaked a washcloth in a strong Epsom solution and applied it to troublesome tic areas on his body. He told me this brought relief.
A valuable discovery: David’s tic triggers
The efforts described above greatly improved symptoms. Still, we discovered many food-related and environmental triggers through trial and error. These could aggravate or trigger David’s tics and OCD behaviors.
We learned that foods with these items could increase David’s tics. The degree of response seemed to depend on his overall health, stress level, energy, other exposures, etc.
- Synthetic food coloring
- Synthetic food flavorings
- Artificial sweeteners like Nutrasweet (also known as aspartame) and Splenda (sucralose)
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Chemical preservatives like benzoates, nitrites, sulfites, and sorbates
- High fructose corn syrup
We had allergy tests conducted and did a process of food elimination to rule out any food allergies. Fortunately, David doesn’t seem to have any natural food allergies per se, though he does have a mild peanut sensitivity. I’m aware that some people are allergic to or have sensitivities to any number of foods like dairy, wheat (gluten), corn, tomato, banana, or beef, etc., and reactions to these can aggravate tics.
I’ve read that the list of potential food triggers others have reported is wide-ranging and depends on the individual.
Environmental and Sensory Triggers
My son was able to identify other tic triggers, in addition to food-related ones, by his observations. These included chlorine (he avoids swimming pools now) and most strong smells, like perfumes, household cleaners, and air fresheners. He also reacts negatively to dust mites and mold exposure.
Some years later, we saw an excellent allergist who ran extensive tests and diagnosed David with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, which helped explain much of his extreme reactivity, including to the many chemicals used to make conventional pharmaceuticals!
Other approaches that helped
As mentioned before, David showed hypersensitivity to sensory items related to taste, smell, touch, sight, and sounds from a young age. We enrolled him in specialized occupational therapy at age 9 for six months, and that helped reduce the extent of his sensitivities. We learned techniques like skin brushing and other helpful skills to assist in reducing his hypersensitivity. I’ve heard from many folks with Tourette’s who complain of sensory factors or who have a diagnosis of Sensory Integration Dysfunction. That said, even though he is doing very well now, David still removes all labels from inside his clothing, and he wears his sox inside out because the seams drive him nuts!
Acupuncture has been a help to David, as has reflexology and biofeedback. He has also seen a chiropractor specializing in upper cervical chiropractic work (see www.nucca.org). This practitioner used gentle pressure methods to help re-align David’s neck and upper spine area. Ticcing of the head, neck, shoulders, etc., can result in skeletal misalignment. Misalignments, in turn, can lead to painful neuromuscular problems that we found could trigger other tics. He also had cognitive behavioral therapy for the OCD, starting age 11.
I should point out that no single intervention was a “silver bullet, “and we needed to take a comprehensive approach to achieve the physical and emotional success that my son has enjoyed. It has been an ongoing effort, but it was so very much worth it.
Now a young adult, David maintains a healthy diet, plus he takes supplements such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, and certain amino acids as his “treatments.” He also studiously avoids triggers that could increase his tics and OCD symptoms.
Gratefully, he has regained his outgoing, social nature, enjoys pursuing his musical and artistic talents, and has a good job. Most of his friends and co-workers are unaware that he has Tourette’s unless he tells them. That’s how beneficial the natural treatment approach has been for my son.
I shudder when I recall how when he was just 10 years old, a doctor told us David would need to be institutionalized. The conventional treatments created his most severe and frightening symptoms. Natural therapies brought hope and healing.
The name of the author of this article is being withheld to protect family privacy.