You just sit back to relax for the evening and it starts. It feels a bit like snakes crawling up and down inside your calves. Or maybe like someone has tied your muscles into knots.
The only relief you can get from these uncomfortable feelings is to move your legs.
It gets even worse when you try to sleep, disrupting your rest on and off all night long.
Restless leg syndrome affects as many as 12 million people in the country. It’s a condition that can leave you feeling tired and irritable from a lack of restful sleep. It can make you feel like you’re going out of your mind—though, I assure you, you’re not.
It can also have more serious health consequences.
There is a link between RLS and heart disease. People who experience RLS symptoms every night are more likely to develop heart disease than those who do not have RLS. Researchers balanced their results for many other possible factors, but the link between RLS and heart disease remained strong.[i]
Figure Out the Cause First to get the Best Results from Treatment
In some cases, restless leg syndrome just starts with no reason at all. This is usually considered to be a neurological movement disorder.
Typical symptoms include an uncomfortable or even painful feeling in your legs. The feelings of discomfort intensify at night or when you are inactive. Moving the legs relieves the discomfort, at least temporarily.
If these symptoms are familiar, then a good first step is to work with your doctor to determine if they’re caused by something else. Kidney disease or low iron levels both are known to cause restless leg syndrome. If you have one of these conditions, treating it will also relieve your restless leg symptoms.
For many people there is not a clear cause behind RLS. If this is the case, you are in danger of more than just RLS. There’s a strong connection between RLS and depression, although scientists don’t yet fully understand the link. What they do know is that antidepressant drugs usually make RLS worse.
There are prescription drugs that can help relieve restless leg symptoms, but I recommend you try natural treatments first.
Some people notice that alcohol, caffeine, and smoking can trigger symptoms. Keep a journal for a couple weeks of your alcohol and caffeine consumption and the number of cigarettes you smoke (if you smoke). Look for a relationship between these things and the frequency and severity of your symptoms. This can help you to make adjustments to your behaviors and may help to control your symptoms.
There is not yet a lot of research available on the affects of supplements on restless leg syndrome, but these three supplements may help.
The first is folate. Research has discovered that low folate levels in pregnant women can contribute to restless leg syndrome. This research demonstrates that an increase of a folate supplement can improve neurological and might help with restless leg.[iii] I recommend that you take a 400 microgram supplement of folic acid each day.
Magnesium and zinc may also help. Your body needs magnesium to promote proper nerve function. It uses zinc in many of its cellular functions. Men need around 400 mg of magnesium a day, and women need around 300 mg. I recommend 30 mg of zinc a day. It’s a good idea to combine your zinc intake with 2 mg of copper to prevent copper deficiencies.
Restless leg syndrome is a real condition that can leave you feeling tired and makes you vulnerable to depression and heart disease. While the disease is not yet fully understood, it may be caused by deficiencies in important nutrients. Try these supplements first before taking a prescription. These nutrients may be just what your body needs to quiet your legs so you can get a good night’s rest.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
[i] Winkleman JW, et al. “Prevalence and correlates of restless leg syndrome symptoms in the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort,” Sleep Med 2006; 7: 545-52
[ii] Allen RP, et al. “Restless legs syndrome prevalence and impact: REST general population study,” Arch intern med 2005; 165: 1286-92
[iii] Mattson MP, Haberman F. “Folate and homocysteine metabolism: therapeutic targets in cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disorders,” Curr Med Chem 2003; 10(19): 1923-29
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