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What is restless leg syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition that causes an irresistible urge to move the legs and an unpleasant creeping or crawling sensation in the legs and feet. These unpleasant sensations are usually worse at night.

It affects around 12 million people in America and women have double the chance of developing it than men. It also affects 1 in 5 pregnant women in their final trimester. It can be seen in other age groups as well but there is a much lower risk. The number of people affected is a hotly debated topic as the condition can sometimes be misdiagnosed as nervousness or unreported because suffers don’t seek medical help for it.

A survey of 1600 people and their partners by The Willis­Ekbom Disease (WED) Foundation and XenoPort inc to determine “how the disease impacted their health and quality of life”, found that 9 out of 10 couples suffered from sleep problems, such as chronic insomnia and it had also impacted on their social lives and travel plans.

What causes restless legs syndrome?

From a western medical perspective most RLS cases don’t have an obvious cause. However a small amount of cases can be from very low iron levels or kidney failure and is called secondary restless leg syndrome. Those from iron deficiency are easily treated with iron supplements.

How can we treat it?

Lifestyle Changes

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The first way to help alleviate the symptoms of the condition is to make some changes in our lifestyle. Which include:

  1. Avoid Stimulants in the evening
  2. Daily Exercise (not in the evening)
  3. Starting an anti-inflammatory diet
  4. Quitting Smoking
  5. Establishing a Better Sleep Routine (keeping to the same waking and sleep times to reset the body clock)
  6. Practicing exercises like tai chi and meditation to help you relax.

Reducing inflammation

The John Hopkins University has found that sufferers of RLS have much higher Histamine levels than normal. High histamine levels can contribute to symptoms like: agitation, sleep problems and irritability.

Histamine levels usually increase in the body to help fight off infections and inflammation and are the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response.

It’s easy to see that we can reduce the symptoms of RLS by lowering the inflammation in our body, the first thing we need to do is to avoid any foods which can cause inflammation such as wheat, sugar etc.

There are lots of resources available online to see what foods to avoid. I’ve chosen not to go into them all here as this would take a whole article in itself to cover!

Supplements

As well as changing our diet, we can also help the body with anti-inflammatory supplements.

These supplements are helpful for reducing inflammation and reducing RLS symptoms:

Magnesium

Magnesium is used for over 300 biochemical reactions in our body and is very important for maintaining normal nerve and muscle function. It supports our brain and immune system. It also has the function of reducing the release of histamines and is most effective when taken in conjunction with calcium.

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Research from Albert­Ludwigs University in Germany showed that magnesium helps significantly improve sleep and reduces the symptoms of RLS.

The recommended daily allowance is 400mg for men and 320mg for women.

Pine Bark

Pycnogenol is a natural antihistamine. It won’t make you drowsy and prevents the body releasing histamine from the mast cells.

Mast cells are located throughout the tissues of the body and release “alarm” chemicals like histamine to activate and attract the immune system to certain areas of the body.

Research shows that it is very safe and can block up to 70 per cent of histamine release and is also is a powerful antioxidant.

Average dosage is 150mg per day.

Grape Seed Extract

Grape seed extract is also a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory and substantially increases the levels of antioxidants in our blood at doses of 50mg to 300mg/day. It also works well when used in combination with pine bark.

Curcumin

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Curcumin is the active ingredient of turmeric and it is a potent anti-inflammatory agent and its absorption is greatly improved by combining it with black pepper. It also reduces inflammation without lowering the effectiveness of the immune system.

As Curcumin is poorly absorbed a dosage of 500-1000mg per day is recommended.

There are several other anti-inflammatory supplements I also recommend taking that I have not covered here, such as GABA, B Vitamins, Valerian and Omega 3.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine for RLS

In Chinese medicine RLS is considered to stem from a deficiency in the body and poor circulation.

Treatment would be to firstly increase energy and support the lowered resilience of the body and improve circulation, especially in the legs. Secondly it would calm the mind to aid relaxation and improve sleep.

There several studies of one Chinese herbal formula called Shaoyao Gancao Tang (芍药甘草汤) that only contains Peony and Licorice, which reports that all of the patients in the trials had improved and that RLS was no longer a consistent problem. Only one patient reported RLS recurring after a year.

Shaoyao Gancao Tang should not be taken by anyone suffering from high blood pressure.

There are lots of ways to tackle the symptoms of restless legs syndrome and a combination of all the suggest ways above give the highest chance in my experience.

Please consult a registered healthcare provider before taking any of the supplements or herbs mentioned in this article.

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