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 Facial and Eye Tics in Children:

The Links to Magnesium Deficiency

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When one of my sons was young, he started developing odd eye blinking habits and facial tics from time to time. At first it seemed like he was just joking around, but over time it became more and more apparent that the movements he was making were events occurring outside of his control.

During one Halloween season when he was about four, I took him to a kiddie Haunted House with his play group. Even though it was a "lights on" event designed especially for preschoolers, evidently it was still too scary for him. He got very stressed out and we had to leave early. What had been occasional tics and twitches started occurring almost constantly.

Muscle Twitching Information from the
U.S. National Institutes of Health

Most parents who write to me receive very little support from their health care professionals regarding diet changes as a possible treatment for tics and twitches. Yet muscle twitching is listed as a symptom of magnesium (Mg) deficiency in many mainstream medical and nutrition books, including the web site for the U.S. National Library of Medicine from the National Institutes of Health.

According to the NIH site, symptoms due to a lack of magnesium have three categories. Early symptoms include anorexia, apathy, confusion, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, muscle twitching, poor memory and reduced ability to learn. The site also states that Mg in the body serves several important functions, including contraction and relaxation of muscles.

In the car he started blinking his eyes oddly and developing all sorts of weird facial tics. Even after we got home the tics did not stop over the next several days. I became worried that at the rate his involuntary movements were increasing that it would not be long before he was diagnosed with full blown Tourette syndrome.

almonds in a green bowl   One ounce of almonds contains 19% of the DV of Mg.

I took him to the doctor but he didn't have any advice and just told me there was no treatment available. So I did some research and found that many of the symptoms associated with both tics and Tourette's are linked to magnesium deficiency. These associated symptoms include:

Upon finding this out I started researching magnesium some more. I identified several areas of my son's diet that may have been causing his magnesium levels to be low. When I changed his diet to include more magnesium rich foods and less magnesium antagonists, the tics, twitches and blinking totally cleared up in a few days.

The problems areas in my son's diet were:

  • The multivitamins I had been giving my son did not have any magnesium, but did have several vitamins and minerals that were magnesium antagonists. I found out that including magnesium often makes multivitamin pills too large to easily chew or swallow, so the manufacturers often just leave it out! Click for info on a study that links multivitamin use to asthma and allergies, conditions often associated with tics.


      If you give your child a daily multivitamin, check the label to see how much, if any, of the recommended daily value of Mg it contains.


  • The breakfast cereal and fortified rice milk that my son enjoyed also were fortified with magnesium antagonists, especially calcium, but were not fortified with any magnesium.

  • Thinking that I was keeping my kids healthy, I had been giving my children whole wheat foods. But in reviewing the studies on Pubmed, I found that the phytates in whole wheat and other grains may actually cause mineral deficiencies, including magnesium deficiencies.

So I cut out the whole wheat bread, the multivitamins, the fortified anything and gave my son some small amounts of crushed magnesium in his yogurt with active cultures for a few days. Plus, in general I tried to give him more vegetables and other magnesium rich foods. In a few days the facial tics and eye blinking stopped. I do wonder now when I see other people with tics and signs of Tourette syndrome if they would also benefit from some minor diet modifications.

One mom wrote to me that her son's facial tics almost completely went away after she gave him some almonds and sunflower seeds to eat. Both foods are rich in magnesium, as well as other vitamins and minerals. I've had a number of emails from parents who tried magnesium, either in food or supplements, for their children's tics, and all but one reported improvement, with several reporting complete improvement as occurred with my son.

While this is only anecdotal evidence, since many health studies report that people in general in the U.S. and other Western countries do not consume the RDA for magnesium, it would logically follow that tics and twitches may be a common health malady in a population with less than optimal magnesium intake.

Please note that even though I personally gave my son magnesium supplements, if I had to do it over again I would have started out by just giving him a diet focused on magnesium rich foods instead of supplements. Magnesium supplements are actually very alkaline and can neutralize stomach acid, which can cause malabsorption and other problems. They can also be dangerous in the presence of certain health conditions such as kidney disorders. I gave my son the magnesium in yogurt with active cultures because I'd found that the bacteria from the cultures in the yogurt can be acid forming, so that tends to counter balance the alkalinity of the magnesium. See this page of my site for more information about magnesium supplements, and this page for more information on acid - alkaline balance.

Interestingly, though my son has only very rarely experienced tics again, he has had bouts of sleepwalking and talking in his sleep, other conditions commonly associated with Tourette's. The sleep walking and talking in his sleep cleared up when we increased the amount of magnesium rich foods in his diet.

Update - 2008

My son who had the tics when he was little is older now, and I can't recall him having any tics for the last ten years or so. I try to make sure he eats healthy and has some magnesium rich foods every day. Recently though, he went away for the weekend with some friends, and for the first couple of days of his vacation he was just eating mostly junk food. He said he woke up at night from a twitch in his leg and later developed a tic near his eye. He ended up going to the grocery store to buy some soup and vegetables. The leg twitching did not reoccur after that and the eye tic went away a few days after he was home and eating healthy again.

Second Update - March, 2015:

I still get emails from readers asking how my son is doing these days, more than a decade after I wrote the original version of this web page. I am happy to report he is now in his twenties and is healthy and tic free. He is still not a big vegetable fan, but he does eat healthy otherwise and includes some veggies and lots of magnesium rich nuts and beans in his daily diet.

 

 

Related sections of interest:

Your Diet Might be Related to Anxiety and Depression

Insomnia - Natural Treatments

Overlooked Health Risks of Low Cholesterol

Dietary Help for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Can Diet Help Tourettes Syndrome?

 

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