For most families, October brings colorful autumn leaves and scary Halloween fun, but for those with children who suffer with PANDAS/PANS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcus, viruses and many other triggers), October can usher in a different type of horror. Fittingly, October 9 has been declared PANDAS/PANS Awareness Day in many states, including my own state of New York, to promote publicity and understanding of this illness at the time of year when it tends to hit the hardest.
Did you know that an estimated 30% of children on the autistic spectrum are also afflicted with PANDAS/PANS? While that figure may seem shocking, when you consider that a dysfunctional immune system underlies so much of autism, it should not be surprising.
It’s painful to watch a child already struggling with autism succumb to the sudden onset of severe OCD, tics, anxiety, sensory sensitivities, loss of math and handwriting skills, and other symptoms that seem like a cruel and extreme exacerbation of some of that child’s most difficult issues. It’s hard enough getting treatment that doesn’t involve a psychiatric referral or anti-psychotic medication when it happens to typical children, when the parents can say, “Overnight, he/she became a completely different child.” For children with autism, PANDAS episodes are even more easily dismissed as “just a part of their autism” or evidence of a “co-morbid psychiatric illness.” As a holistic practitioner, I do not make that separation. For me, our mental, emotional and physical health are all part of one whole, integrally connected and interdependent, and I know only too well the devastating effects anti-psychotics can have on those with PANDAS/PANS.
Hit with his first PANDAS episode when he was 4, my son was an essentially non-verbal child with autism. Even as he experienced dramatic healing from autism with nutrition and homeopathy, his immune system was vulnerable. After five PANDAS-free years, his exposure to children who had recently received the nasal mist vaccine for swine flu in 2010 triggered the return of acute PANDAS/PANS with symptoms worse than ever before. Thankfully, I was able to use my own knowledge of nutrition and herbology in combination with homeopathy through the help of my mentor, classical homeopath, Pierre Fontaine, to heal my son’s immune system, and develop healing protocols I can share with others. This will be our 3rd PANDAS-free October!
For us, overcoming PANDAS/PANS required a comprehensive whole body approach to healing. Too often, if parents realize the diagnosis, they are led to believe that strep or some other pathogen is the cause of the problem and may spend years giving antibiotics or trying to suppress immune function. While such measures may result in relief for some typical children who were never beset with previous autoimmune issues, for those on the autistic spectrum, such regimens often only result in greater problems of inner ecosystem imbalance and immune dysfunction. There is mounting evidence that implicates antibiotic use in the development of autism in the first place, and repeated long-term dosing can often result in regression and further complications.
Rather than suppression, a holistic approach deals with the underlying cause of autoimmunity; that the immune system, overworked and overwhelmed, has lost its ability to distinguish pathogen from brain cell and is attacking the area of the brain responsible for checking repetitive thought and movement. A holistic approach involves strengthening the immune system so that it can regain its vision to distinguish self from pathogen. For more and more children, a combination of nutrition, homeopathy, and herbs are making the difference. For each child the protocols must be individualized, but a comprehensive approach takes into account these steps:
- Gut healing: A leaky gut, whereby undigested proteins, pathogens, and toxins can pass into the bloodstream provoking inflammation and immune reaction generally underlies autoimmunity. It also makes absorption of nutrients difficult which adds to immune dysfunction. Over 70% of the immune system is in the gut. Gut healing is a multistep process that can be helped with herbs and healing nutrients in conjunction with dietary changes.
- An anti-inflammatory diet: Respecting bio-individuality, a diet that eliminates foods contributing to inflammation, allergy, and sensitivity for each person, to calm the fires of inflammation and give the immune system a needed healing rest is essential. This generally begins with removing the most well-known contributors to inflammation and immune reaction: gluten, GMOs, refined vegetable oils, dairy products, processed foods, chemical additives, pesticides, refined flours, fried foods, and sugar. Foods that serve to quell inflammation are key. A nutrient dense diet of real food that promotes a slightly alkaline internal Ph is essential to healing. Note: It is a common misconception that allergy testing can define a child’s food intolerances. Most of the food reactions our children face are not true allergies, but are due to the child’s inability to properly digest or process the chemicals (natural or artificial) or proteins in the food. These foods will not test positive as allergens, yet can be causing chronic inflammation and immune reactivity.
- Homeopathy: This system of energy healing supports and strengthens the immune system and was key to my own son’s healing. Remedies are determined on the basis of the totality of the individual child’s symptom picture. During acute PANDAS episodes, when the child can often take on a completely different symptom pattern, an intercurrent remedy may be recommended based on the individual child’s symptom picture.
- Anti-inflammatory herbs and nutrients that help to strengthen and support a healthy immune system are a key component of the healing process.
- Cell salts that are appropriately determined for the individual can help with nutrient absorption and healing the gut and nervous system.
- Detoxification: Toxic overload can often contribute to the immune system’s overwhelm. Toxic metals, mold, and chemicals in the environment can act as triggers or contribute to ongoing immune dysfunction. Eliminating common environmental triggers in the home environment in combination with gentle, natural methods to improve the child’s own detoxification capacity are important.
- Balance the inner ecosystem: We have more microorganisms in our bodies than human cells and an imbalance significantly impacts immune function. Overgrowth of yeast, bacteria or parasite invasion must be overcome in order for the immune system to heal. Homeopathic methods to balance the inner terrain, such as the use of appropriately indicated bowel nosodes, particular in the wake of antibiotic use, can provide tremendous healing.
A dozen years ago, PANDAS was unknown to most health practitioners and the options for healing were limited. Today, we are blessed to have a wealth of holistic knowledge that provides true hope for healing autoimmunity as well as the support of a growing community of well-informed parents.
To learn more about how a holistic approach to healing PANDAS can help your child, contact me for a free 15 minute consultation.