Personal insights on a holistic approach to supporting children with PANDAS
PANDAS is one of the many conditions I’ve had extensive experience with as not only a naturopath, but as the parent of a child living with it.
Like all parents of children with health challenges, I was left floored by the diagnosis.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to use my knowledge of nutrition and herbal medicine to support my son on his journey with PANDAS, as well as other families who have turned to me for support.
But I know many people are going it alone, still feeling confused and unsure where to turn for holistic ways to support the health of their children with PANDAS.
It’s a condition that is rarely spoken about, despite being relatively common. It’s estimated that as many as one in 200 children are living with PANDAS, yet many remain undiagnosed.
What is PANDAS?
PANDAS is the acronym for Paediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections.
It presents as a collection of neurological symptoms, such as tics and obsessive compulsive behaviours, caused by the body’s immune response to strep infection.
Typically, onset occurs in children aged between three through to puberty.
Usually streptococcal infections are treated with a course of antibiotics. However, some children affected by the common strep throat infection can go on to develop PANDAS.
The infection triggers changes in the immune system, creating proteins and antibodies that are thought to trigger PANDAS in some children – but the exact mechanism is unknown.
A similar condition is known as PANS (Paediatric Acute Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome), which may be triggered by infection, environmental, or diet linked to an autoimmune response.
Symptoms of PANDAS
Detecting PANDAS in our son was tricky because he also has autism.
We noticed anxiety, stuttering, decline in handwriting, obsessive compulsive signs, depression, irritability, sensory sensitivity especially to clothing and sleep difficulties. We didn’t realise at the time that these are all signs of PANDAS. Thankfully, we had a very good integrative pediatrician that picked it up for us.
The leading authorities suggest the following symptoms could be signs of PANDAS, particularly if children experience an abrupt onset of a combination of them.
- OCD behavior
- Uncontrolled and repetitive jerky movements
- Handwriting difficulty
- Anxiety attacks and abnormal fear
- Pain in the joints
- Sensory problems
- Bed wetting
- Frequent urination
- Crying or laughing inappropriately
- Sleep problems
If you find these symptoms suddenly develop in your child after an infection, you may want to talk to your practitioner about the possibility of PANDAS. Various diagnostic tests along with a clinical diagnosis can help determine if it is PANDAS.
Diagnosis and treatment of PANDAS
There is no one specific test for PANDAS but with a range of pathology tests, together with all the signs and symptoms our son was displaying, a positive diagnosis was made.
We checked Anti-dNase B strep levels and multiple other tests to rule out other conditions like Epstein Barr Virus, including ferritin levels, B12, Vitamin D, and heavy metals testing.
This was very quick for us because of our great integrative pediatrician. but I know a lot of families really struggle for a long time trying to get a diagnosis.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Antipsychotic drugs
- IVIG (intravenous infusion of immunoglobulin)
Some of the conventional medicine options may have severe side effects, and may provide long-term solutions on their own. Often a combination of both conventional treatment and holistic approaches can be used for the best results.
Natural and holistic treatment for PANDAS
A naturopathic approach to PANDAS considers underlying factors and supports the body’s return to homeostasis with herbs and nutrition, providing gut health support and reducing inflammation.
What this looks like will be different for every child, but some of the most effective methods we’ve found include:
- Anti-inflammatory nutrients: Including Omega 3, Curcumin, Quercetin
- Antioxidants: Eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables at every meal
- Reduce inflammatory foods: Gluten, dairy, artificial dyes, flavours, preservatives and sugar
- Immunomodulators: We love Chinese Skullcap, Metagenics SPM Active – a practitioner only supplement, and Vitamin D, which supporting immune health, as well as nervous system and brain function.
- CBD oil: Available on prescription through an authorised doctor
Supporting brain health in PANDAS
- Optimise nutrient intake and nutritional deficiencies
- Treat and correct gut dysbiosis and inflammation
- Address leaky gut and food sensitivities
- Support methylation – methyl-B12, methylfolate
- Support mitochondrial function – coQ10, carnitine, ribose
- Address mast cell activation – luteolin, quercetin, DAO, ketotifen, cromolyn sodium
- Support neurotransmitter balance – 5-HTP, inositol, GABA, theanine, tyrosine
- Support detoxification – milk thistle, glutathione
- Optimise adrenal and thyroid dysfunction
- Stabilise blood sugar dysregulation
Experts in the treatment of PANDAS and PANS like Dr, Elisa Song and Dr Leila Masson, a leading expert in Australia who has been instrumental in our journey, also offer valuable insights into treating these disorders in a holistic manner.
Parents often report their integrative approach to treatment, including naturopathic remedies, provide the best results for their children.