The Link Between Strep Infections and Neurological Dysfunction
Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders, otherwise known as PANDAS, is a syndrome where behavior, personality, and movement coordination radically change after a Streptococcus pyogenes infection. It is linked to ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette syndrome, and bedwetting or frequent urination. Sometimes autism is incorrectly diagnosed in the case of PANDAS. The condition seriously impacts learning, memory, and school performance. It is most often seen in children between the ages of three until puberty. While conventional medicine recommends the use of antibiotics to address PANDAS, natural approaches are gaining ground as more parents avoid the drawbacks of excessive pharmaceutical use. We’ll explore several options below that may be helpful.
Why Does PANDAS Occur?
Most people recover from a strep without issue, but for a small percentage of the population with less than ideal immunity and/or a genetic predisposition, PANDAS can arise four to six weeks after the infection.4 The underlying mechanism is autoimmune in nature because the strep bacteria utilize a method called molecular mimicry to avoid detection by the immune system.1 This is a process where the bacteria use molecules on their surface to mimic those found in the human body, including in the heart and brain. Because of this, it can take the immune system some time to detect the strep bacteria — at which point the body triggers an immune response. The problem is, the antibodies are not only attacking the strep, but also the healthy tissue that has molecules which are similar to what the strep bacteria used to avoid detection. In PANDAS, the immune system antibodies target the brain region called the basal ganglia, leading to the telltale neurological issues of the conditions. This is similar to what happens with Sydenham’s chorea and the strep bacteria when rheumatic fever develops.2
PANDAS symptoms may include the following:
- Motor tics
- Irritability and mood disorders
- Sleep issues
- Joint pain
- Difficulty focusing
- Poor academic performance
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Bedwetting or frequent urination
- Decline in motor skills like handwriting
- Temper tantrums or regressive “baby talk”
- Oppositional Defiant behavior
The symptoms tend to be cyclical where they come and go without warning. A child may become suddenly better for a few weeks and then enter into another cycle with pronounced symptoms. Researchers have discovered there may be a link with autistic behavior as both have the same antibody cross-reactions with neurons.4 Gut health plays a role as well. Studies have shown that a strep infection impacts and changes the gut microbiome.5 As we have seen in previous posts, gut health is linked to autoimmunity, mood, immune function, brain health, and more.
As we look at the underlying issues contributing to PANDAS, we may question how to treat it effectively. While conventional medicine relies heavily on antibiotics, antidepressants, and sometimes corticosteroids to address the condition, this approach has significant side-effects. Many are seeking safer alternatives, which we will discuss next.
Due to the complexity of PANDAS, I highly recommend you work with a naturopathic physician to address the condition. Many factors are at work and you want to maintain a balanced approach that is tailored to the individual child. Having said that, several aspects tend to be universal in most cases. Improving and modulating the immune response is crucial. As is calming inflammation and healing the gut. Here are several natural remedies that may help:
- Our Dual-Extracted Usnea Tincture Spray is one of the best antibacterial herbal medicines you can use to combat strep. It specifically targets bacteria and may prevent PANDAS from developing when sprayed on the back of the throat at the first sign of infection. If PANDAS has taken hold, this powerful herb can help to treat it. Additionally, usnea is antiviral, anti fungal, and antimicrobial.
- Another highly effective antibacterial herbal remedy is my Eastern Defense Blend. It also has strong anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and cognitive boosting properties.
- Monolaurin limits the growth of several groups of strep bacteria, along with other types of bacteria, viruses, fungus, and mold. Berberine, oregano oil, and olive leaf oil may also be helpful.
- Omega 3 fatty acids are known anti-inflammatories and can help with behavioral issues, learning, and memory.
- A quality probiotic is essential for encouraging microbiome diversity and health.
- N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) for detoxification support. Heavy metals and other environmental toxins can contribute to neurological and behavioral disorders, among other health conditions.
- Containing anti-inflammatory and soothing herbs to support a healthy microbiome and repair leaky gut, our Balanced Gut Blend is a game-changer for chronic health issues such as PANDAS.
- Dual-extracted medicinal mushrooms are also helpful due to their prebiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. Reishi and lion’s mane extracts in particular powerfully tame inflammation, help to heal leaky gut, and promote cognitive health. Turkey tail tincture has the added benefit of encouraging a healthy microbiome by “feeding’ the good bacteria while controlling the overgrowth of candida.
As with any behavioral or mood disorder, an anti-inflammatory diet will help to support healing. A whole foods, Paleolithic-style diet is one of your best options with a focus on leafy greens, low-glycemic fruits such as berries, nuts and seeds, non-starchy vegetables, olive and coconut oils, and wild-caught cold water fish.
Moreover, certain lifestyle habits complement natural remedies in treating PANDAS. This condition is not only difficult for the child, but also for the entire family when there is a behavioral flare. One extremely helpful method for PANDAS is cognitive behavioral therapy.
For caregivers, spending time with friends, laughter, gratitude journaling, Nature Rx, exercise, and stress-relieving breathing techniques can alleviate stress and are an important aspect of self-care. Needless to say, these practices are also helpful for your child to promote calm, improve immunity, and reduce inflammation.
Researchers believe that chronic stress may be one of the underlying factors for the development and continuation of PANDAS, so it is crucial to address any environmental factors that may be causing tension and anxiety. In short, these kids need a whole lot of love and grace as you navigate the complexities of the condition.
I hope you have found these suggestions helpful. Visit the apothecary today to learn more.
Wishing your family abundant healing and happiness!
Nicole’s Apothecary Products in this Post
- Snider, L. A., & Swedo, S. E. (2004). PANDAS: current status and directions for research. Molecular psychiatry, 9(10), 900–907. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.mp.4001542
- “Sydenham’s chorea” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/sydenham-chorea
- Libbey, J. E., & Fujinami, R. S. (2010). Role for antibodies in altering behavior and movement. Autism research : official journal of the International Society for Autism Research, 3(4), 147–152. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.144
- “PANS: Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome”, Stanford Medicine. https://med.stanford.edu/pans/about/Q-and-A.html
- Quagliariello, A., Del Chierico, F., Russo, A., Reddel, S., Conte, G., Lopetuso, L. R., Ianiro, G., Dallapiccola, B., Cardona, F., Gasbarrini, A., & Putignani, L. (2018). Gut Microbiota Profiling and Gut-Brain Crosstalk in Children Affected by Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome and Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated With Streptococcal Infections. Frontiers in microbiology, 9, 675. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.00675