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Home > Research Department  > Health Concerns Articles > Restless Leg Syndrome
    Health Concerns Articles  
RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME
Articles by a Naturopathic Doctor (N.D.)
Last Updated: July 30th, 2015

RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME

Restless Leg Syndrome typically worsens in the evening or at night.

When your legs just won't let you get rest...

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is described by those who suffer from it as an odd sensation (or pain) that usually travels through the leg. This sensation produces a need to move the affected limb in order to temporarily stop the sensation. It is often described as a creeping, itching, crawling, tingling or electrical sensation. This condition is more often experienced at night and although typically it is felt in the legs, some individuals can experience it in their arms or torso.
There is an estimated 5% to 15% of adults that suffer from restless leg syndrome. Also up to 19% of pregnant women develop symptoms during pregnancy usually during the third trimester. Symptoms may disappear after birth. Although restless syndrome does not cause any serious health problems it can cause a decreased quality of sleep and even insomnia. For more information on insomnia, please click here.

The National Institute of Health has defined RLS by the following criteria:

1) an urge to move the limbs with or without sensations
2) improvement with activity
3) worsening at rest
4) worsening in the evening or at night

Types of RLS
There are two types of RLS. Primary RLS is considered idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause. It typically develops slowly and gets progressively worse as a person ages. Secondary RLS usually begins suddenly and the intensity does not seem to change over time.

What you can do:

- HAVE YOUR IRON & DOPAMINE LEVELS TESTED
- MAKE SURE THAT YOUR RLS IS NOT LINKED WITH A PRESCRIPTION DRUG YOU MAY BE TAKING
- EXERCISE DAILY; MINIMUM 30 MINUTES PER DAY

RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME FACTS

- CAN BE LINKED WITH NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCY OR DISEASE
- OTHER ASSOCIATED CONDITIONS INCLUDE VARICOSE VEINS & PARKINSON'S
- OVER 50% OF PEOPLE WITH RLS REPORT A FAMILY MEMBER WHO ALSO HAS RLS

What causes restless leg syndrome?
RLS can begin in childhood, and may be associated with what many call "growing pains" throughout childhood and adolescence. It most commonly begins around the age of 40-45 years old, and is generally worsened by stress. Unfortunately, the cause of this condition is not yet known. It has been found to be associated with chronic kidney disease, diabetes, iron deficiency, varicose veins, pregnancy, Parkinson's disease, peripheral neuropathy and withdrawal from sedatives.

Because of these associations, some theories suggest iron, dopamine, or other nutritional deficiencies may play a role in the development of RLS. Interestingly, RLS is often passed down in families, and over 50% of sufferers report a family member with the same symptoms. The genetic link is especially present when symptoms begin at a younger age.

Iron and Dopamine Connection
Although the causes of Restless Leg Syndrome are still unproven, the majority of current studies are focusing on a combination of iron and dopamine deficiency. It is estimated that 20% of RLS cases are caused by low iron. The body's iron storage molecule is called ferritin. Having your ferritin levels tested can help to reveal an easy treatment method, as blood ferritin below 50 micrograms/L could be responsible for producing symptoms in some people. In a matter of months, supplementing with iron and increasing iron stores can cause a significant reduction in pain. Many prescription medications are also based on increasing dopamine stores and its production in the brain. As dopamine is a chemical messenger that controls muscle movement, a deficiency in this neurotransmitter may play a significant role in RLS.

Lifestyle Changes for Relief
Given the many proposed causes of RLS, there are many lifestyle suggestions that can help to alleviate symptoms and help sufferers to get some well deserved sleep. At the top of the list is exercise. Aiming for 30 minutes to 1 hour of physical activity daily serves to reduce stress, shed extra pounds and improve sleep. Yoga combines three remedies that could reduce symptoms - streching, deep breathing, and relaxation. Try doing some stretches before bed - nothing too strenuous though.  Sitting at work for hours on end can also decrease blood flow to the arms and legs. Taking regular stretch breaks and even sitting with your feet above your heart for 15 minutes daily can help to increase blood flow and venous return in the lower extremities. Soak in a bath. Soaking in a bath will help to relax you and reduce some of the pain. Alternating hot and cold packs or hot and cold water in the shower, as well as dry skin brushing can also reduce the sensations. Smoking aggravates RLS symptoms so quitting smoking is high on the list for lifestyle changes as well. Exercise your brain. By keeping your mind distracted on something other than the pain may ease your symptoms. Try massaging your legs. By massaging your legs you might be able to ease the pain and help you to realx.

RLS and Sleep
We all know the importance of a good night's sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to serious illness, including heart attack, stroke, obesity, depression, memory and cognitive impairments. Although RLS makes it difficult to obtain for some individuals, adequate sleep is essential and will serve to decrease pain. Aim for 7-9 hours a night. For more information on sleep, please click here.

Dietary Changes
Alcohol and caffeine intake can aggravate RLS symptoms, as can fluctuations in blood sugar caused by a diet high in refined sugars. Eating small frequent meals helps to stabilize blood sugar and can reduce your symptoms. As always, a diet high in whole grains, vegetables, fruit and lean protein is recommended to provide the essential vitamins and minerals needed to maintain healthy nerves and muscles. Avoid caffeine - coffee, tea, chocolate and colas. Yes it can give you a burst of energy but it may aggravate RLS symptoms, and keep you awake at night.

Supplementation
Supplementation with iron, magnesium and B vitamins, as well as herbs to aid in sleep, may all be necessary in addition to the lifestyle changes listed above. This is particularly true if the symptoms are severe enough and an individual is finding it difficult to find relief with lifestyle changes alone. As many individuals with RLS are iron deficient, supplementation in these cases can help to decrease symptoms, but be sure to have your iron levels checked before supplementing. Too much iron can also have side effects.

The following list of supplements can be used for treating restless leg syndrome.  Adult doses are given. (CLICK SUPPLEMENT NAME FOR PRODUCTS).

SUPPLEMENT DOSAGE THERAPEUTIC EFFECT
IRON 15mg daily for premenopausal women, 10mg for postmenopausal women. Ferrous fumarate and ferrous gluconate forms of iron do not cause constipation; iron is also more easily absorbed when taken with a vitamin C supplement.
Magnesium (with Calcium) 300 mg at
bedtime.
Take along with 500 mg calcium to avoid loose stools.

Helps promote muscle relaxation and improve sleep. Calcium is also important for both muscle and nerve function.

Phenylalanine  and L-Tyrosine

(Phenylalanine) 300-1500 mg/day. 
(L-Tyrosine) 1000 mg/day in divided doses.
Take 30 minutes before food.

Phenylalanine is an amino acid and precursor to L-Tyrosine, also an amino acid. Both are shown to increase brain levels of dopamine.

B-Complex As directed

B vitamins play a significant role in nerve function. A deficiency of B12, in particular, can lead to peripheral neuropathy and increase risk for RLS.

Ginkgo Biloba 120-240 mg/day

Enhances blood flow/circulation to the extremities.

Hawthorn As directed

Enhances blood flow to the extremities and maintain vessel wall integrity.

Melatonin

Start at 3 mg/night, you can increase dose if further sleep support is needed.

Melatonin regulates our sleep-wake cycles and has been found effective in treating insomnia.

For informational purposes only.  Please consult your health care practitioner before taking natural health care products. Click here for full disclaimer.


All articles copyright National Nutrition 2001 - 2015.  For educational purposes only.  Please note that while National Nutrition supports your right to use natural health care products for any therapeutic purpose that you see fit, that the information on this website should not be considered as a claim or as a substitute for medical advice.

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