While the phrase “restless legs” has become commonplace with the recent flooding of medications used for treatment, restless legs syndrome (RLS) is truly a generic term used by doctors for urges to move the limbs while at rest. This may include significant pain in the legs, and often the sensation of bugs crawling on the legs. Though more buzzworthy, the medications used are not new. They were originally prescribed to combat the periodic involuntary limb movement of Parkinson’s disease.
RLS can be frustrating due to interrupted or delayed sleep for the patient and their spouse. Sufferers might find sitting for long periods of time very uncomfortable. Those with significant pain in the legs, especially while walking or active, should notify their physicians. They should examine the legs to ensure good blood flow to the feet, and eliminate the possibility of another illness.
The specific cause of RLS is unknown, but there are several nutritional concerns that should be considered. Iron deficiency can cause or aggravate symptoms of RLS. Deficiencies in other minerals, such as magnesium, potassium and calcium, can also contribute to leg cramps and pain, as well as the aggravating need to move the legs. Other illnesses, including Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and blood vessel disorders, may cause symptoms of leg cramps or restlessness.
Diets high in refined sugar, processed foods and sugary beverages lead to severe swings in blood glucose levels. Those who experience spells of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, increase their chances of RLS. To correct or prevent these symptoms, a diet low in sugar and high in fresh fruits and vegetables along with whole grains is advised. Eating smaller, more frequent meals also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Fortunately, nutritional treatments for RLS can be extremely successful. Using a nutritional approach will not necessarily take away the symptoms overnight, but patients often notice dramatic relief in one to two months. It’s also equally important to hydrate with water, while minimizing soft drinks and caffeine, which leach the helpful minerals out of the body.
- Iron. Iron deficiency can be detected through a blood test and should be part of an evaluation in those suffering with RLS symptoms. Have a healthcare professional measure your level and determine the need for supplementation.
- Magnesium. 250-500 mg daily. Individual needs will vary, but RLS patients can start with 1-2 capsules a day, with food. Increase by 1 capsule every 1-2 weeks until symptoms lessen.
Patients with significant pain in the legs typically need a broader spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Along with magnesium, potassium and calcium can be included. Vitamin E can be added for further support, especially when symptoms don’t respond to minerals.
- Calcium. 600 mg daily.
- Potassium. Can be added by eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
- Vitamin E. 400 IU daily (the ingredient label should say d-alpha tocopherol plus mixed tocopherols).
Can I get RLS during the day? Can my arms be affected as well?RLS can be a spectrum of symptoms, most often related to overactivity of the nervous system. It most often affects the legs at night, but many suffer from variations of this. Those with restless arms, or other body parts, during the day are advised to try the nutrition and supplement approaches described above, although ruling out other causes with a physician is recommended.
Will exercise help?Regular exercise is highly encouraged for those suffering from RLS. Start with a simple walking program, gradually increasing the distance and speed each week. Good stretching is essential to help symptoms that may be related to muscle tension or tightness. Perform stretches several times a day and work all the muscle groups of the leg.