Tics, Tic disorder, Tourette symptoms

Reader stories
Scientific references
More information



Tics can be motor or vocal, that is, involuntary, rapid, sudden movements, often involving eyes, face or neck or sounds or words that occur repeatedly in the same way. What some parents call 'silly noises' can be classified as vocal tics.

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterised by tics.

Improvements in motor and vocal tics related to an additive-free low salicylate diet were described by Dr Feingold nearly 30 years ago. The diet recommended on this website is the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH) elimination diet which is free of colours, preservatives, antioxidants, flavour enhancers, salicylates, amines, natural glutamates and perfumes. Tics are most often reported as due to MSG, salicylates, aerosol deodorants and other aerosols (which usually contain inhaled salicylates), artificial colours, benzoate and sulphite preservatives, synthetic antioxidants and undefined 'junk food' or 'treats', but any of the usual culprits can be involved.

Reader stories

See also collection of all stories on tics and Tourette's including those below

[580] Tics disappeared on day 10 (September 2007)

Our son was diagnosed with Tourette's at the age of six. He had substantial tics, but no behavioural problems. I decided to apply the complete elimination diet (not an easy process.) By day 7, I was quite despondent with no obvious improvements and then miraculously, by day 10, his tics had disappeared. He had been experiencing severe eye, mouth and head jerking tics for over 2 years. I haven't yet narrowed the tics to any specific reaction. Thanks for your amazing website - it definitely saved our boy from a very troubling syndrome. - by email

[579] 319,320: Tic disorder related to antioxidants 319-320 (TBHQ and BHA) (September 2007)

My three boys have been avoiding a number of additives for many years now because of obvious affects on their behaviour and health. Last year my oldest son (then 8 years old) was diagnosed with Chronic Tic Disorder (one step before Tourettes Syndrome) – he could not sit still, having tics in his face, neck, shoulders and arms. After a period of time, I realised that this behaviour coincided with an increase in eating hot chips. I stopped my son eating hot chips and THE TICS WENT AWAY. I have since tried him on hot chips and the same thing happens. The culprit ingredient/s here is the synthetic antioxidant 320 (and/or 319) that appears in most chips and oil used for deep frying, however manufacturers of frozen chips, and other products such as packet chips/crisps and dry biscuits do not need to list the additive on the label if the oil is less than 5% of the product. NOT GOOD ENOUGH! How can I help my son be “tic free” if we don’t know when these nasty additives are in certain foods? - by email, Victoria

[578] Tics related to salicylates in summer fruits (September 2007)

My son very suddenly developed mild facial (rapid blinking eye and lip biting) and vocal tics (sounds like a quiet grunt or throat clearing sound) at a time when I think his hyper/silly behaviour and other food intolerance symptoms escalated, probably in response to his increased consumption of summer fruits, salads and juices. Other symptoms included: loud voice, bed wetting, sinusitis, teeth grinding. All of his favourite foods were high in salicylates: strawberries, apricots, rockmelon, tomato, cucumber, capsicum, broccoli, vegemite, spag bol, apple juice etc. His diet contained few foods with colourings, flavourings and preservatives as I've always tried to encourage "healthy" foods which he has been very willing to eat.

We noticed some improvement (in behaviour, bed wetting, teeth grinding but not tics) over a week just by changing fruits to pears and bananas, stopping vegemite and tomatoes and switching to low sal veges and Bakers Delight bread. We visited a dietitian and Joe (not his real name) started on the elimination diet. He had a very obvious reaction to sals - hyper like I've never seen him within about 4 hours of starting the challenge. I wouldn't have believed it but my parents witnessed the reaction too! When they visited, he was his usual self, undertaking some quiet activities requiring concentration (jigsaw puzzles, colouring etc), chatting and on his (usual) best behaviour. Within about an hour and half of their arrival he changed into this wild, racing, hyper thing heart racing, unable to stand still, almost a "mad" look in his eyes, silly silly silly etc...the worst of it finished within about two hours and he basically collapsed exhausted and couldn't even stay up to wait for dinner guests that he had been looking forward to seeing. Very strange but so similar to the stories I've read on your web site.

We didn't manage any other challenges before Christmas - felt it too unfair to restrict his diet so severely during the holidays, although I did continue to restrict sals and he doesn't eat many processed, flavoured or coloured foods anyway. We continued along on this basis, watching his sals intake over a day and over a week, and the tic went completely. His behaviour was much more predictable and stable and very much like the boy I know. He is still bed wetting although I am convinced it is worse when he has had sals (e.g. salad) in his dinner and this seems to be improving, particularly since we have been focussing consistently on his sals intake. Teeth grinding and sinusitis very improved. So I am absolutely committed to continuing our new approach to Joe's diet as we really have seen some big improvements. - by emails over a period of 3 months

[577] Motor tics related to amines (chocolate) and additives (lollies) (September 2007)

We have been following the diet for several years and we have seen the positive effects a failsafe diet has on our hyperactive 6 year old daughter. She does have trouble with expressive language and has been having therapy for a year. If she eats something eg a chocolate or lollies for several days, she starts to stutter really badly and she also makes "jerking" movements with her body. - by email

[576] Vocal tics related to non-failsafe 'treats' (September 2007)

My husband said he was supportive of our boys' [RPAH elimination] diet though I suspected secretly skeptical. Last weekend he indulged the boys in various 'treats' including non-failsafe lemonades, popcorn, etc. This morning I had the first meltdown in a couple of months from our son who has Asperger's. He was back to headbanging, crying, not wanting to eat, refusing to go to school, hand flapping, vocal tics, etc. It was full on. I talked to him about it (after he'd had a calcium tablet and calmed a little) and he said he would give up all those foods he loves if it meant he was able to be calm again. - by email, Sydney

[575] Vocal tics, word and phrase repetition due to salicylates and additives (September 2007)

When Chris was born he was a big, boofy boy. For the first six month of his life he was a placid, calm, happy child. At six months, he changed to being very, very active, fidgety and demanding. Looking back at that time, three things changed – he started long daycare, solids and formula. I also remember very clearly that his face changed as big dark circles and creases formed under his eyes. He was labelled ‘naughty, disruptive, hyperactive and violent’ by daycare when he was only 10 months old. He was walking at that stage and continued to escape from the childproof room, or to snatch toys from non-mobile babies.

Since that time he has been variously diagnosed by health professionals as having Tourette’s Syndrome, the hyperactive type of ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and others. Whatever the term, the symptoms are the same, including unmanageable behaviour, poor impulse control, loud voice, vocal tics, word and phrase repetition and lack of empathy.

Coupled with the behaviour has also been a range of other medical problems including croup, asthma, headaches and stomach aches, unexplained temperatures and eczema. Chris also suffers from glue ear and for the last four years has had grommets inserted every winter to enable him to hear clearly. (As I know now, these are all indicative of food intolerance.)

Last year I took Chris to a paediatrician, looking for a solution to his constant illness rather than his behaviour. The doctor took one look at him – he was making duck noises and running in circles around the waiting room – and diagnosed food intolerances.

We went home with a complex list of foods to avoid. Although his health improved, his behaviour seemed to become worse, as it always has in summer. Just before Christmas, I found the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s elimination diet for food intolerance. This diet was stricter but far more logical than the one we were using. It worked by identifying the chemicals that people react to, then the foods that contain them. Interestingly, the research showed that most people with food intolerance react to the salicylates in fruit. I had been loading Chris up with cherries and nectarines in term 4. No wonder his teacher was ready to send him to Alcatraz late last year.

I switched the family to the RPAH elimination diet during the holidays. Gradually, as we removed foods from the diet and found acceptable replacements, Chris’ behaviour improved. Living with him became easier, there were less sibling fights, and when he did misbehave it was easy to use normal parenting techniques to modify behaviour – something that had never worked before.

By the end of the summer holidays, I finally had a calm, reasonable, sensitive child, who was able to play at other children’s places without causing mayhem, would look at people when talking, and would allow other people to talk without interrupting. Amazingly, Chris was keen to stick to the diet, having realised how good he felt.

First day back at school and I had lots of positive comments about how calm or grown-up Christopher seemed. A good start to the year. However, as I write this, I am back to having a child who runs around making chicken noises, uses a loud voice, is prone to crying and is violent and aggressive. What happened? He got to school and started to cheat. He ate chocolate cake, m&m’s, muesli bars and lollies. For him, even the smallest amount results in a reaction. It is like being on a trip – he can’t control his behaviour, and trying to discipline him has no effect.

So what do I need, or more importantly, what does Chris need? He needs the support of the school community to assist him to stay on his diet – he needs recognition for the fact that he does suffer from food intolerances – he desperately wants to feel in control of his life, and he likes feeling calm and relaxed, so please, please, please don’t feed my child, or encourage him to cheat. - by email, Sydney

What the medical journals say

Feingold BF. Dietary management of nystagmus. J Neural Transm. 1979;45(2):107-15.

ABSTRACT Two case reports illustrate the therapeutic response of congenital nystagmus to a diet eliminating synthetic food colors, synthetic food flavors, the antioxidant preservatives butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), and a small group of foods thought to contain a natural salicylate radical. A brief discussion of the hyperkinetic syndrome is offered with the proposal that a variety of neurologic and neuromuscular disturbances (grand mal, petit mal, psychomotor seizures; La Tourette syndrome; autism; retardation; the behavioral component of Down's syndrome; and oculomotor disturbances) may be induced by identical chemicals, depending upon the individual's genetic profile and the interaction with other environmental factors. It is perhaps the failure to integrate all the signs presented by the various clinical patterns with hyperkinesis or Minimal Brain Dysfunction (MBD) under a single heading that eye muscle involvement manifested as either nystagmus or strabismus has not been emphasized as part of the hyperkinetic syndrome.

More information

Introduction to food intolerance
Stuttering factsheet
Hyperacusis symptom discussion - sensitivity to sounds
Salicylate factsheet
Failsafe Eating for an example of foods that are additive free, low in salicylates, amines and flavour enhancers

The information given is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor for underlying illness. Before beginning dietary investigation, consult a dietician with an interest in food intolerance. You can see our list of experienced and supportive dietitians 

© Sue Dengate update September 2007