Two closely related autoimmune conditions are wreaking havoc with the health of many thousands of American kids, and conventional medicine has little to offer.
The conditions are devastating not just for the affected kids, but also for their families. The conditions are called PANS and PANDAS, which stand for Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS) and Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS), respectively. They are estimated to affect one in 200 US children – and this figure may be conservative and be on the increase.
Imagine waking up one morning and finding a sudden and deeply disturbing change in the behavior of your 6-year-old child. They could have new and intense concerns about things being disordered or uneven, or find themselves struggling with schoolwork. They could, overnight, develop new compulsions like the need to wash or repeat things a certain number of times, or they’ve developed a tic, hyperactivity, extreme anxiety, or sudden depression.
All of these symptoms and more could be signs of PANS or PANDAS. Note that these conditions are generally grouped together because PANDAS is really a subcategory of PANS with clear evidence of a group A streptococcus (strep) infection. These neuropsychiatric disorders come about because of an autoimmune inflammation of the brain that can lead to dramatic and sudden changes in your child, including: anxiety, tics, decline in math and handwriting abilities, restrictive eating, and personality changes displayed as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
While current estimates are that 1-2 percent of children are affected by PANS/PANDAS, this is probably an underestimate; for example, one-tenth of kids diagnosed with OCD are estimated to actually have PANS/PANDAS. As with other autoimmune diseases, less intense cases of PANS/PANDAS are likely going undiagnosed.
How do we heal these children?
According to conventional medicine, PANS/PANDAS is triggered by an infection—commonly a strep infection in the case of PANDAS, while PANS can be triggered by Lyme, flu, chickenpox, or some other infection. This infection then causes the autoimmune brain inflammation, so conventional doctors treat the infection with antibiotics. Then other medicines are prescribed based on the symptoms. This can include steroids and NSAIDs to reduce inflammation and psychiatric drugs like benzodiazepines and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to deal with behavioral symptoms. We’ve covered some of the serious side effects of these drugs previously—we’ve even petitioned the FDA to add a warning to antidepressants about increased risk of violent actions towards others (there is already a black box warning on increased suicide risks for adolescents). Other conventional treatments for PANS/PANDAS include immunoglobulin treatments, plasmapheresis (plasma exchange), and cognitive behavioral therapy.
These approaches may reduce some of the symptoms in some children, but they also have the potential to damage them further and reduce their long-term prognosis. For example, antibiotics destroy the gut microbiota that are crucial to the immune system and disrupt the gut brain connection, while SSRIs can have debilitating side effects, especially on children.
We spoke to well-known integrative doctor Michelle Perro, MD, about options for holistic approaches toward treating children with diagnosed PANS/PANDAS. She emphasized that there is no silver bullet for these conditions and other autoimmune diseases for that matter—they require a multimodal approach that supports the self-healing of the entire “terrain” of the body – and mind. The strep or Lyme infection, according to this model, is simply the straw that has broken the camel’s back. This likelihood is becoming ever more of an issue as the total toxin load of all of us, including our children, that we referenced last week, keeps increasing. Kids are exposed to toxic assaults from many different angles: heavy metals in water, plastics in toys, pesticides on non-organic food, constant EMF exposure from wireless devices…the list goes on. Big Food markets junk to kids that leaves them over-fed and undernourished, not to mention in a pro-inflammatory state. Poor diet and exposure to environmental contaminants can lead to leaky gut. This is when the barriers between the intestinal tract and the rest of the body become permeable, allowing undigested food and other contaminants into the blood. Conditions that lead to a leaky gut often also contribute to other leaky barriers, including the blood-brain barrier. Put this all together and you’ve got the perfect storm for the autoimmune spiral we’re currently witnessing.
Dr. Perro and other integrative doctors stress the fundamental difference in approach between conventional and holistic doctors: conventional medicine targets almost entirely the bacterial infection and then treats symptoms, rather than addressing the underlying causes of why an autoimmune condition arose in the first place. This means looking at genetics and epigenetics (for example, those that control methylation and detoxification), improving and cleaning up the child’s diet, limiting exposure to environmental contaminants, healing a leaky gut, re-balancing the gut microbiome, detoxification, and yes, addressing the triggering infections—such as through the use of herbal products, silver, probiotics, or other strategies that enhance the body’s immune system, allowing it to get on top of the infection, without destroying the good (commensal) bacteria in the gut. Put simply: you need to heal the terrain, alter behaviors, choices and lifestyles, and then go after the triggers or modulators that caused or perpetuated the autoimmune condition.
The treatment of autoimmune disease is becoming a massive issue: autoimmune disease prevalence doubled from 10.4 percent of the pediatric population in 2010 to 20.8 percent in 2018. Our kids are sick, and it’s not enough to simply hope these conditions disappear or to merely treat the triggers. We need to recognize that autoimmunity starts at a more fundamental level and is influenced by trauma, chronic emotional stress, gut dysbiosis, poor food choices, and chemical exposure to name just a few.
That’s why we are excited by the conference being organized by Documenting Hope in Orlando, Florida, November 10-12, 2023. It’s being headlined by prominent clinicians with exceptional expertise with PANS and PANDAS and will be discussing total toxin load theory, natural treatment of PANS/PANDAS and other childhood illnesses, and much, much more. Documenting Hope is a fantastic project that is dedicated to eradicating the epidemic of chronic diseases in children using an integrative medicine approach. They’ve already conducted some studies, the results of which will be revealed at the conference. For any clinicians dealing with affected children, or parents, this isn’t to be missed.
Where: Orlando, Florida at the Omni ChampionsGate Resort
When: November 10-12, 2023
*The conference is in-person only