Restless Legs Syndrome

feet poking out of bed sheets

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) can be described as an urge to move the legs, usually accompanied or caused by uncomfortable and unpleasant sensations in the legs.  Symptoms are worse at night, and may or may not be relieved by movement. It appears to be the result of peripheral vascular insufficiency (or poor blood flow to the lower legs and feet). RLS can occur at any age and in either gender. It has been estimated that 10 percent of all Americans suffer from restless legs syndrome. Children who experience RLS are likely to be labeled “hyperactive.” With adults the problem usually worsens over time. The symptom—an uncontrollable urge to move the legs—is especially bad at night. Sensations can be described as painful, crawling, tingling, creeping and/or twitching, and can be unbearable. Most commonly, the discomfort occurs deep in the calves, although some people experience pain in their arms, genital area, and trunk.

RLS usually occurs at night, when the body is sedentary and can be relieved with slight physical activity, such as walking, stretching or kicking. RLS may also be involuntary and occur during the middle of the night. This may be a result of nutrient deficiency. For mild to moderate RLS, simple lifestyle changes may be adequate therapy. Try to develop regular sleep habits and practice relaxation exercises, because fatigue and stress will exacerbate RLS symptoms. 

CAUSES

Peripheral vascular insufficiency appears to be the main cause of RLS. Chronic diseases such as kidney failure, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, gastro-reflux disease, and thyroid disease can also lead to RLS. It may simply be caused by low levels of magnesium, potassium, or folate in the body. A deficiency of vitamin B12 is also a possible cause. Some researchers believe that circulatory and nervous systems are involved.

Primary RLS probably has some genetic basis.  Other causes may be anemia (low blood iron), neurologic lesions, fibromyalgia, smoking, pregnancy, and unemployment. There is always a possibility that food allergies are involved.  Patients suffering from RLS often experience more depression, anxiety, and psychological disorders.

DIET

It has been advised for patients who suffer with RLS to eliminate or curtail caffeine, coffee, tea, cocoa, and especially cola beverages (including diet).  Exercise helps a lot, as does massage and acupuncture.

a foot being massaged

SUPPLEMENTAL PROTOCOL

  1. MAGNESIUM
    This mineral is essential for the relaxation of muscles, an obvious factor in dealing with RLS. Magnesium concentrations are generally low in the American diet (main sources are green, leafy vegetables, almonds, soy, and certain fish). Supplementation of magnesium can ease muscle spasms and soreness. Dosage: 400-800 mg per day. Higher doses may be taken; however, loose stools may be a side effect. Magnesium is best supplemented along with CALCIUM and VITAMIN D.
  2. VITAMIN B COMPLEX
    These vitamins help to rejuvenate nerve endings and increase blood flow to the lower extremities. Also, B vitamins help to control stress (another possible factor in RLS) and improve energy cells. Supplementing with extra FOLIC ACID (1000-5000 mg daily) is advisable. Dosage: 50-100 mg daily. NOTE: If your physician prescribes drugs for RLS (usually drugs used in Parkinson’s disease such as carbamazepine, phenytoin, levodopa or valproic acid), then it is advisable to supplement with extra folic acid (5 mg daily or more).
  3. POTASSIUM
    Potassium is a mineral that in low concentrations is often associated with leg cramps and restless legs. Often potassium can be complemented with magnesium. Dosage: 90-400 mg daily, or as directed.
  4. VITAMIN E
    This antioxidant vitamin improves circulation and oxygen supply to tissues and nerves. Dosage: 200-400 IU daily.
  5. QUININE CAPSULES
    These may be beneficial for severe leg cramps, severe restless legs, and “charley horses.” Dosage: See a physician for a prescription or drink quinine water on a regular basis at bedtime.
  6. INOSITOL HEXANIACINATE
    This appears to have an application in the treatment of conditions resulting from vascular insufficiency including RLS. Dosage: As directed on label.
  7. IRON
    There may be a need to supplement with this mineral if a blood test or a hair analysis indicates anemia or low levels. Dosage: As directed by a practitioner.
  8. ST. JOHN’S WORT
    This is an excellent herb to support the nerves and calm the legs. Dosage: 300-600 mg daily or at bedtime for 2-4 months only.
  9. VALERIAN ROOT
    This “sedative” herb has been successfully used to relieve restless leg syndrome in many cases.  Dosage: As directed on package.

Alternative Medicine Review Monographs- Volume One. Thorne Research, Inc. Dover, ID. 2002.

Balch, PA, Balch, JB. Prescription for Nutrition Healing. Avery Press, New York, NY. 2000.

Roberts, AJ, O’Brien, ME, Subak-Sharpe, G. Nutraceuticals- The Complete Encyclopedia. Pedigee Books. New York, NY. 2001.

Sahelian, R. Restless Legs Syndrome. www.raysahelian.com

Tonn, Sandra. Fidgety Facts On Restless Legs. Alive #228, October 2001. Pp. 74-75.

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