Research exploring the link between diet and tic disorders is very preliminary and limited. Most doctors do not advise their patients to rely solely on diet to treat tic disorders. However, eating certain foods — and avoiding others — may have a positive effect on the condition, with generally few side effects.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
In small samples, children and adults with tic disorders have experienced positive results while taking omega-3 fatty acids. One 2012 study published in Pediatrics found that, while omega-3s did not significantly improve tic scores, they did help with “tic-related impairment” — meaning the psychological distress or additional symptoms associated with the tic disorder. In addition, up to 50 percent of children with tic disorders also have ADHD, which also responds positively to omega-3s.
Magnesium and Vitamin B6
In a small 2008 study published in the journal Medicina Clinica, children with Tourette Syndrome experienced positive results while taking supplemental magnesium and vitamin B6. The results of the study are questionable — due to its small sample size and lack of control group — but introducing more food-sourced magnesium and B6 is unlikely to have any negative side effects, and could result in positive changes for children or adults with tic disorders. Foods high in these vitamins include green leafy vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fruits, fish, and nuts. Talk to your doctor before introducing any supplements to your child’s diet.
Avoid: Caffeine, Sugar, and Soda
Another small preliminary study looked at the influence of certain foods on symptoms of tic disorders. Researchers found a correlation between higher incidence of tics and increased consumption of cola drinks, coffee, black tea, preservatives, refined sugar, and artificial sweeteners — possibly due to their effects on dopamine levels in the brain.
These results didn’t come entirely as a surprise, since most doctors already recommend that patients being treated for tic disorders avoid caffeine as much as possible. However, this study was the first to link preservatives, sugar, and other sweeteners to aggravated tics, suggesting that further research may be needed to examine the relationship between these substances and tic disorders.
A special diet will not likely eliminate tics, but reducing stress can have an overall positive effect on the severity of the condition. If you suspect you have a sensitivity to certain foods (like gluten, dairy, or food dyes), trying an elimination diet may help you manage any stress caused by the sensitivity — ultimately resulting in a positive effect on the symptoms of your tic disorder. Exercise can also be used to relieve stress, provide an outlet for excess energy and help you feel in control of your body and mind — without negative side effects.