A staggering number of children are being diagnosed with a psychiatric illness each year. Children may struggle with a variety of serious psychiatric disturbances that stem from a condition called PANDAS or PANS. According to Dr. Elisa Song M.D., 1 in 200 kids has PANS or PANDAS. This number is probably a low estimation because 1 in 4 children have OCD or a Tic disorder. Dr. Song reported those children may have an undiagnosed PANS or PANDAS. She stated that 35% of kids will wait 3 years to get properly diagnosed. These conditions often get overlooked in main stream medicine and children are not getting the proper treatment needed. PANDAS stands for pediatric autoimmune disorder associated with streptococcal bacteria. PANS stands for Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome. More in depth information on these conditions can be found at pandasnetwork.org. and mykidisnotcrazy.com. Parents who know their child suffers from these conditions may struggle to find the support they need. PANDAS and PANS is a controversial diagnosis in the main stream medical model so its difficult for parents to advocate for their child.
Symptoms of both PANDAS and PANS can be: anxiety, mood swings, defiance, hyperactivity, light sensitivities, enuresis, obsessive compulsive behaviors, vocal tics (clearing the throat), fears, rages, sleep issues, dilated pupils, separation anxiety, poor self-esteem, lack of focus, handwriting issues and hand tremor. Diagnosing PANDAS and PANS is clinically based with a variety of aspects considered. A practitioner can make the diagnosis based on symptoms, current medical status, medical history, mental health history, labs, or bioenergetic testing. Symptoms of PANDAS and PANS will eb and flow and children will have “flare ups” of the symptom. Stress can create inflammation in the body and in the brain, which can contribute to the flare ups. It has been stated by many doctors that “The only thing predictable about PANS is that it is unpredictable.” A child suffering from PANDAS or PANS will have a sudden onset of symptoms that seem to be unpredictable and uncharacteristic of the child. The symptoms can be severe for a certain period and then may lesson for a certain period. The child will have great difficulty controlling their moods and behaviors during “flare ups”. PANDAS or PANS can be like a rollercoaster ride of emotions and behaviors.
The PANDAS condition is an immune system reaction to the presence of the strep bacteria. The symptoms associated with PANDAS are very similar to those of a child with Autism, ADHD, anxiety and OCD. According to Dr. Anju Usman, M.D. and many other physicians, children can have a leaky brain where the blood brain barrier is permeable. Chemicals, food proteins and the streptococcal bacteria can be leaking into the brain. The strep bacteria can linger in the body and antibodies will be developed to fight off the bacteria. These antibodies can have significant effects on the brain and its normal functioning. The strep bacteria invading the body over a prolonged period is a health issue, of a threatened immune system, presenting itself with mental health symptoms. Strep Infections, when the body develops antibodies, cause your body to attach your own brain and encephalitis is caused.
PANS is different than PANDAS because it doesn’t need the strep bacteria to be triggered. The PANS condition is an immune system reaction to the presence of infections and viruses. The symptoms associated with PANDS are also very similar to those of a child with Autism, ADHD, anxiety and OCD. Infections and viruses can cause PANS in children. Lyme disease and Epstein Barr virus are associated with triggering PANS. Triggers can also be the flu, yeast, mold, coxsackievirus (hand foot and mouth) and cytomegalovirus. Bartonella can cause an autoimmune encephalitis and can mimic PANS but it can also be causing PANS. With PANS, infections cause your body to attack your own brain and encephalitis is caused. An infection in the body causes autoimmunity. Because infections cause the inflammation, the infections need to be treated.
PANS and PANDAS are considered neuro inflammatory disorders because the brain is inflamed. Dr. Elisa Song M.D. reports that the brain is on fire during a PANS or PANDAS flare up. When the brain is inflamed the body perceives it is in fight or flight. The fight or flight mode will keep a child in the sympathetic state of the nervous system. The body will overreact and think its under assault. A child’s body can be hyperalert and sensitive to a large array of things.
It can be concluded that Neurological based disorders like PANDAS and PANS are a maladaptation to stress on the body. We need to ease the stressors on the body that are making our children develop unwanted symptomology. The nervous system becomes impaired when there are stressors (viruses, mold and bacteria) threatening the optimal functions of our child’s body. Caregivers need to be aware of what is going wrong in the nervous system and how it can be fixed. The nervous system can be fixed when we treat and lesson the stressors. Neurological based symptoms from PANDAS and PANS are a protective reaction in the body. The body develops symptoms to protect itself. Cognitive decline in the brain is a protective reaction to kill invaders.
The neurological system is made up of the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system essentially regulates all body functions. The central nervous system includes the brain and the spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system is responsible for functioning our nerves and organs. The peripheral nervous system includes the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. These systems can be damaged with outside stressors threatening the body. A typical body uses both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system when needed.
A child suffering from PANDAS or PANS will be stuck in the sympathetic state of the nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system will help the body for the fight-or-flight response. This system increases muscle blood flow, increases muscle tension, dilates pupils, accelerates heart rate, accelerates respiration, increases perspiration and increases arterial blood pressure. When children are stressed, anxious or worried they will be in the sympathetic phase in the body. Having cold hands is an example of the sympathetic mode. The sympathetic state signals unhealthy bacteria to grow in the gut. Many children who have a neurological based mental health disorder have a hard time switching their bodies out of this state. Children in this state are hyperalert, anxious and emotionally reactive.
The parasympathetic nervous system is known as the rest and digest system. The parasympathetic system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate. It increases intestinal and gland activity. This system relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract. Our children need to be in this relaxed state to obtain good sleep and to have proper digestion. When a child’s body gets stuck in the sympathetic phase (fight or flight) they will not rest or digest properly. Children with PANDAS, PANS, ADHD and Autism are often stuck in the sympathetic phase of the nervous system. When children are stuck in this phase their bodies will not be able to detoxify properly. Toxins are not moving out of the body, if the body is not able to rest and digest properly. Some supplements that help the body get into the parasympathetic state are GABA, magnesium and castor oil. Essential oil blends are also useful for getting the body into the parasympathetic state.
According to Dr. Christopher Shade Ph.D., the nervous system can’t reset itself with neuro inflammation occurring. Dr. Shade reports that the liver locks up with neuro inflammation and toxins can come out of the skin instead of going through the liver. The body can’t detox or re-set properly in the sympathetic phase. To treat PANS or PANDAS Dr. Shade reported that we need to calm the nervous system, re-set the nervous system, lower encephalitis and improve liver detox pathways. Helping the liver detox is critical for children to recover from PANS and PANDAS.
Children with Autism spectrum disorder, with PANDAS or with PANS may also struggle with seizures. Do to chronic health issues going on in the body, Autism, PANDAS, PANS and seizures can go hand in hand. Dr. Jeanette Fransen, N.D. is an expert on natural health and understanding seizures in children. She reports that a live blood analysis can show blood cells in the brain are stacked on top of each other in some children. When blood cells are stacked from encephalitis, not enough oxygen can gather between the blood cells. When oxygen is lacking between the blood cells in the brain, a seizure will occur. To complicate matters, if a child has a history of head injuries scar tissue can build up in the brain. If scar tissue is in the brain, oxygen will not be able to circulate properly. Brain injuries can hinder the brain from getting the proper oxygen it needs for optimal functioning. The lack of oxygen will also cause processing delays and chronic diseases. Low oxygen levels mixed with encephalitis is not a good mix for a child’s brain. Naturally healing the immune system will assist the body in getting more oxygen to the brain. Removing mucus in the upper respiratory track can increase the passage of oxygen. House plants and home air filter systems can help increase oxygen levels in the home for a child that struggles with seizures. Many children benefit from the treatments of hyperbaric oxygen chambers. Children can get this treatment at holistically based clinics that treat young patients.
Dental care and overall oral health should be considered when a child suffers from PANDAS or PANS. Infected and toxic tonsils are often the cause of PANS or PANDAS. We have the tonsils in the back of our mouth, but we also have the adenoids which are pharyngeal tonsils. Both sets of tonsils can be chronically infected from waste that leaves the brain and then they act like a dam on the lymphatic system. The tonsils have been called the toilet of the brain by Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt M.D., Ph.D., because they collect all the waste. When the dam is occurring in the tonsils and adenoids the toxins can’t exit the brain. Heavy metals like Mercury and Aluminum need to leave the brain and this isn’t happening for many children. When toxins stay in the brain our children are affected neurologically. Our lymphatic system needs to have proper movement for the body to property detoxify. Having a healthy mouth, tonsils and adenoids is a critical piece of allowing the lymphatic system to move toxins out of the body. It has been studied that Frequency specific microcurrents (FSM) can be used to help the tonsils regenerate energy and detoxify. The FSM devices can be used at a holistic based practitioners office. Holistic oral health is important when you are healing your child from a neurological based disorder. You want to avoid seeing a dentist that will complicate the toxic overload for your child with fluoride and amalgams (mercury based) fillings.
The adrenal glands (small gland on top of the kidney) need to be supported when a child suffers from PANDAS or PANS. Children with neurological disorders often have adrenal fatigue. Children who have an elevated level of stress, gut dysbiosis, chronic inflammation and encephalitis of the brain will most likely have adrenal fatigue in the body. According to Dr. Mark Hyman M.D., high stress creates an elevated level of cortisol and adrenaline to occur in the body. The elevated level of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline will cause the body to always be in “fight or flight mode”. Children in this mode will be irritated, anxious, hyperactive and moody. Fight or flight mode will lower the adrenal functioning because the adrenal glands will be tired. When the adrenal glands are tired, the rest of the body will be tired. Many children who suffer chronic mental health issues may be hyperactive and have low energy levels at the same time. Children with neurological disorders are usually bouncing all over the place but, their bodies seemed to get fatigued very quickly with exercise. Adrenal gland support should be considered when helping your children gain optimal health of the immune system. Optimal health of the immune system needs to be a mission if a child is going to recover from a chronic mental health disorder stemming from PANDAS or PANS.
Detox is critical for a child with PANS or PANDAS because detox helps the brain remove infections. Ninety percent of brain detox happens at night during sleep. Sleep is extremely important for strengthening the immune system and detoxification. Most of us know that we need sleep to function at our best capacities. When we are overtired, our bodies can feel rundown. We start to get sick when our bodies stay run down for prolonged periods of time. When we are lacking sleep, we also become emotional. Regulating moods is much harder when individuals are overtired. Proper sleep is critical for a child with PANS or PANDAS. Parents often tell me that their child doesn’t sleep well and stays up later then they should most nights. Falling asleep and staying asleep is often an issue for children with neurological based disorders. When I talk to children about sleep, many of them tell me they fall asleep watching TV, or a TV show keeps them up later. Many children are watching handheld devices and are exposed to blue light right before bed. The blue light lowers melatonin levels that are needed for sleep. The blue light and the EMF (electromagnetic fields) exposures make the symptoms of PANDAS and PANS worse. The Blue light and EMF’s hinder brain healing and create increased neural distress. It’s important for children to get proper sleep with the Wi-Fi turned off in the homes. Turning off the Wi-Fi at night can make a positive impact on the brain healing process.
When we assist our children in strengthening their immune system and to fight off an illness, we are also helping them improve their mental health functioning. Improving the immune system helps lesson or prevent symptoms of PANDAS or PANS. Children and adults naturally have cognitive declines when they don’t feel well. There are so many ways to strengthen a child’s immune system in natural and holistic ways. I would recommend taking your child to a naturopathic medical doctor or a holistic based health practitioner before taking them to a psychiatrist. A naturopathic medical doctor will help guide parents in getting the child tested for possible vitamin deficiencies, possible infections, possible toxicities, possible virus’s, food intolerances and diet related deficiencies. Parents need to start advocating for their child to receive better care regarding mental health concerns, especially regarding PANDAS and PANS. A naturopathic medical doctor often has more time to devote to special physiological and mental health needs a child may have with PANDAS and PANS. They can help guide parents in viewing the body as whole. A mental health issue stemming from PANDAS and PANS is a whole body and systemic issue. We can reverse or lesson mental health symptoms stemming from PANDAS and PANS when we treat the root cause issues.
Author: Dr. Elizabeth Ward, Ph.D., LCPC