Info on restless legs syndrome, or RLS. Causes, symptoms, natural treatments and home remedies from alternative medicine. What to do for restless legs.
What is RLS? The most significant sign of RLS is the irresistible urge to move the legs at night. Instead of sleeping, people get up and walk, depriving themselves of needed rest. It's more common in women and in those over 60. It usually shows up in middle age or later.
Restless leg syndrome is the fourth leading cause of insomnia, with millions of Americans suffering from restless leg symptoms. Up to 10 percent of the U.S. population may have restless legs at night. Note: The condition is often misspelled restless leg syndrom, sydrome, syndrone.
Restless leg symptoms have been described as twitching legs, jittery legs, legs jerking in sleep, crawling or itching sensation in your legs, a pulling, tickling or throbbing sensation.
Symptoms usually occur in both legs. Rarely, it can also affect other areas, such as the arms, trunk or head. If you do manage to get to sleep, the annoying sensations continue through sleep, leading to lighter sleep and daytime fatigue.
Before reading any further,
see our medical disclaimer.
Is restless leg syndrome hereditary? Although a couple of studies have identified a gene for some cases of RLS, there are also causes for restless legs syndrome that have nothing to do with genetics. The big advantage the genetic studies gave is that doctors are no longer telling patients it's all in their head.
There are two types of restless legs syndrome, primary and secondary, says Mark Stengler, N.D., in his July 2015 newsletter, Health Revelations. Those with primary RLS usually start noticing it before age 45. The cause isn't known for sure, but there seems to be a genetic susceptivity involving the central and peripheral nervous system.
Secondary RLS, however, is connected to prior conditions, such as:
Restless leg syndrome causes include certain prescription medications, which can cause or worsen RLS. They include antihistamines, antidepressants, sedatives, lithium, beta blockers, and anti-psychotics.
Magnesium deficiency is a common cause of RLS, so magnesium would be a restless legs syndrome natural home remedy (after you check with your doctor, as always). A lack of enough magnesium in the diet is widespread, and blood tests are inaccurate.
A number of my medical sources recommend taking a magnesium supplement "to bowel tolerance," because magnesium can be a laxative. Personally, I can only take 400 to 600 milligrams a day (for other reasons than RLS) before I get diarrhea, but a source listed below says she gives "all of my RLS patients magnesium...from 100 to 1000 milligrams per day." She says just taking magnesium often solves the problem.
Fibromyalgia and restless legs syndrome: RLS is frequently coupled with migraine headaches or fibromyalgia, both of which may respond to magnesium therapy. Magnesium is a wonder supplement. See more information about magnesium on our Health Benefits of Magnesium page.
Here's an eye opener: In an RLS study, Mayo Clinic researchers found that ALL of those with RLS had donated blood at least three times annually for the preceding three years, and they ALL had an iron deficiency.
Blood levels (also known as blood ferritin levels) of iron drop 50 to 60 percent at night, and RLS patients' brains often lack sufficient iron. Studies show that the lower the ferritin level, the worse the RLS symptoms, so ask your doctor for an ordinary ferritin blood test. If your levels are lower than 50 mcg/L, you may want to take an iron supplement.
A British study found that 200 milligrams of ferrous sulfate (iron) taken three times a day for two months relieved RLS symptoms, when patients' blood ferritin levels were low. My source recommends iron picolinate, which is more easily absorbed.
In genetic cases of RLS, folic acid supplementation may be indicated, since folate deficiencies are often seen in patients with RLS. Your blood levels of folic acid should be 1-12 ng/mL. In one study, RLS patients who took folic acid saw their problem disappear, and their IQ improved, too.
Some blood tests don't show a deficiency, so my source recommends one to ten milligrams of folic acid. Check with your doctor. Your doctor can use the same blood test to test your red blood cell magnesium level, folate level, and something called MTHFR gene status (also related to restless leg syndrome) at the same time.
"My favorite remedy is to drink 2-4 ounces of tonic water before bedtime," says Glenn S. Rothfeld, M.D. Tonic water, the kind used for gin and tonic drinks, available at your supermarket, contains quinine, which can help restless legs. Check with your doctor.
Pregnancy can create deficiencies in iron, folate and magnesium. Check with your doctor about blood monitoring and supplementation.
Chronic venous disease and secondary RLS are often connected. See an article on Restless legs syndrome in patients with chronic venous disorders. Although it can be difficult to treat chronic venous problems, one promising therapy is diosmin, which is an over-the-counter supplement.
Diosmin supports venous function, preventing or reversing some of the changes of chronic venous disease. Although the effectiveness of diosmin for treating RLS has not been tested, it is a possible treatment for restless legs syndrome.
Cut down on or eliminate caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes. As for RLS exercise, do stretching exercises specifically for your legs to loosen tight muscles. You may also get temporary relief with methods that increase circulation, such as manual or vibrator massage.
Dr. Nan Fuchs recommends a 20 herb supplement called Padma Basic as a restless legs syndrome herbal remedy, in cases when RLS is related to poor circulation and inflammation. Take it for three months, she says, two tablets with each meal.
Dr. Stengler says taking 100 mg of circulation-enhancing Pycnogenol at bedtime may help.
A reader of Health and Healing newsletter (October 2011) by Julian Whitaker, M.D., writes that he has two personal remedies: 1) "I bend down to touch my toes...Sometimes that's all it takes. 2) If it doesn't work, then I take two potassium pills (3 percent of RDA each). After 20-30 minutes my legs quiet down."
Be sure to check with your own doctor before trying any of this.
Dr. Whitaker comments that another possibility is the drug Dilantin. Re Dilantin, Dr. Whitaker recommends the book A Remarkable Medicine Has Been Overlooked, by Jack Dreyfus, who talks about "phenytoin," which is the generic name for the brand name drug Dilantin.
Here's a link to the book:
Conventional medicine focuses on boosting dopamine activity in the brain to help RLS, says Dr. Stengler, but you can do that naturally with 500 milligrams daily of the amino acid N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine.
He says some RLS patients respond well to the serotonin boost of 200 mg of 5-HTP at bedtime.
He also says acupuncture may help reduce symptoms.
He recommends testing for toxic metals, especially mercury, lead and arsenic, and using chelation to get rid of them if your levels are elevated.
Okay, that's enough detail about restless legs syndrome, especially for those of you reading this on your mobile phones.
For much more detail and additional info you should have, go to your desktop computer or tablet and check out this article from Life Extension magazine: Really. YOU SHOULD READ THIS ARTICLE ON RESTLESS LEGS.
Are any of the suggestions there a natural cure for restless legs syndrome? They may be worth a try, after you check with your doctor.
Health Revelations newsletter, by Mark Stengler, ND, July 2015. To subscribe, see healthrevelations.com/
Health and Healing newsletter, by Julian Whitaker, M.D., October 2011. For subscription info, see drwhitaker.com.
Women's Health Letter, by Dr. Nan Fuchs, May 2008. For subscription info, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28.
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"Dear Lord, please hear me now as I pray for your help with (name your problem). I pray you’ll cleanse my body and heal me completely. In Jesus’ name I pray; Amen."
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