Does sugar make tics worse?

Sugar is an ingredient we can’t get enough of, but can harm us in the process. I have become increasingly aware of the link between sugar and Tourette syndrome and whether I want to reduce consumption.

Studies have linked increased consumption of sugar with increased tics in adults with tic disorders. It would be sensible to consider this is the case for children also, and reducing refined sugar in their diet.

It is important to know that Tourette Syndrome varies in the population. Tics vary, as do the factors that cause them to increase or decrease. It is also important to consider that many sufferers have different dietary needs. This post isn’t a one-size-fits-all to improving tics.

Many people with Tourette see an increase in tics after sugar consumption

The following sentence is taken from Tourettes Action in the UK:

Although there is no medical evidence to suggest that a particular diet is better suited to people with TS, many people notice that their tics worsen when they eat foods that contain additives, artificial colourings and high levels of sugar.

Diet and Exercise- Tourettes Action UK

As is true with so much Tourette’s research, more research needs to be done in this specific area.

However, many people (including myself) see an increase in tics when sugar is in the diet.

Although different ingredients can contribute to this, refined sugar is a big one.

What is refined sugar?

To put it simply, refined sugar is often found in foods that are heavily processed.

Natural sugars (the better ones) are found in many foods such as milk, yoghurts and fruit.

Natural sugars are often in nutrient-rich foods.

Refined sugars are found in heavily processed foods such as cakes, cookies and sugary coffees.

Refined sugars don't have the same health benefits that natural sugars do

Refined sugars taste good, but come without the benefits found in natural sugars.

The studies

A post from the website Holistic Child Psychology mentions a study on tics and sugar:

A study looking at the impact of various foods and beverages on adults with tic disorders showed that increased sugar consumption worsened tics. Specifically, the adults in this study noted that drinking Coke and/or ingesting foods made with white sugar significantly worsened tic symptoms.

(Dietary Intervention For Tics and Tourette Syndrome– Dr Nicole Beurkens)

The post also states a correlation between sugars and inattention and hyperactivity, both very common in those with Tourette Syndrome.

I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and consumed sugar throughout my childhood. ADHD is still something I still struggle with daily.

But going back to this study, the link provided takes us to this article, although it can only be fully accessed through payment. In the conclusion that is viewable without payment, it states:

It, therefore, can be speculated that caffeine may further stimulate an already overactive dopaminergic system in TS and thus increases tics.

The influence of different food and drink on tics in Tourette syndrome– Wiley Online Library

The summary of the study only mentions refined sugar when describing drinks with caffeine and theine, and I am unsure whether the article is focused on caffeine more than sugar.

I did a quick poll on tics and sugar in the Tourette Community

I wanted to speak to fellow Tourette sufferers, and decided to do a post in the r/Tourette community. Over a couple of days I offered people to give me their opinion on whether or not sugar made their tics worse.

I gave the community four options to choose from:

  • Yes it makes my tics worse
  • My tics stay the same
  • My tics reduce with sugar
  • I’m not sure

91 people voted, and this is the result:

The result from the poll I conducted in the r/Tourette community

Interestingly, 36 people believed sugar kept tics the same. 18 said sugar made tics worse and one person said tics reduce with sugar.

After the poll, the user saying tics reduced told me they accidently clicked the button, and in fact wanted to click that tics get worse, as seen below.

A further 36 people said that they are not sure.

In summary, most people said tics stay the same or were not sure, followed by sugar made tics worse.

Not one person said sugar made tics reduce.

Does sugar make tics worse? Summary

There seems to be a correlation between refined sugars and an increase in tics.

It could be beneficial for those with Tourette Syndrome to reduce refined sugars where possible, as well as specific foods.

Parents of children with tic disorders including Tourette syndrome should reduce sugars where possible. This could help the condition considerably, not to mention provide many other health benefits.

Personally, I am finding that reducing sugar is improving my health and wellbeing. I have more energy and tics do reduce, although cutting down can be difficult.

Similar to quitting other things, it is a difficult process but the benefits are certainly there.


Diet and exercise– Tourettes Action UK

Dietary Intervention For Tics and Tourette Syndrome– Holistic Child Psychology

The influence on food and drink on tics in Tourette syndrome– Wiley Online Library