Restless legs syndrome is not considered any type of life threatening condition, but if you suffer from it, you might just want to debate this issue. The symptoms can range from just slightly irritating to the other end of the spectrum, where it can literally be incapacitating. It is often the first sign that you may have some kind of a nutritional problem such as an iron deficiency; however, there are also other deficiencies that may cause it. It may also be the first sign that you have of something much more sinister happening to your body; kidney failure.
What is it?
Restless legs syndrome, also referred to as RLS, is a condition where your legs will feel very uncomfortable when you are sitting or lying down. When this does occur, it will seem like the only way that you can get any type of relief is to get up and move around. Although this condition is not considered to be a serious health risk, it can make it very difficult to sleep for any extended period of time which can have a huge impact not only daytime activities, but the insomnia that it causes can eventually start to take its toll on your overall health.
It can strike any age group and in most all cases it will become worse as you start to age. For years if it affected young adults, it was shrugged off as growing pains, but in recent years, it has finally been properly identified.
The symptoms of restless legs syndrome are far more extensive than just an uncomfortable feeling, and if you do suffer from this condition, you will know exactly what this means. The sensations that you feel will include burning and aching in your legs, crawling or tingling, as well as a creeping or almost a pulling like sensation as if someone is literally pulling on your legs. You may also experience an electric shock type of sensation, a tugging feeling, as well as mild to severe itching or a gnawing like sensation.
However, whatever the sensations are, they will all have two things in common; they will be painful as well as very uncomfortable. There will also be times when what is occurring in your legs will be very hard to describe but it is not like a charley horse cramp or numbness that goes away when you walk it off simply because once you sit or lay back down it seems to start all over again. To compound RLS even further, these sensations can vary tremendously in severity and they may go away for long periods of time only to return again with even a higher degree of severity.
How they develop:
Restless legs syndrome can be very different in anyone affected, but there are some commonalties. The first is that they seem to start when you have any extended period of time without any activity and will not just appear when you are laying down. They can also hit you when you are sitting, driving, as well as flying and all of these can bring some real challenges. They will also, in most all cases, be relieved by some type of a movement such as standing and walking, or by stretching your legs, bouncing or jiggling them, or exercising them vigorously. They also seem to be much more common at night and can very easily be associated with another condition that is very similar; PLMS.
PLMS, or periodic limb movement during sleep, is a condition which causes involuntary flexing as well as extending of your legs while you are sleeping and you have absolutely no idea that you are doing it. These movements can take place literally hundreds of times while you are sleeping but this is where there is a major difference; this condition can also occur when you are awake. It is also different in that it does not seem to interfere with sleep like restless legs syndrome, and it is estimated that over 80 percent of all people that suffer from RLS also suffer from PLMS.
Nutrients that can help:
The most common cause of restless legs syndrome is believed to be a deficiency of iron, but it may also be the result of a deficiency of folic acid, vitamin B, as well as magnesium. Even if you do not suffer from any form of anemia which is the classic sign of an iron deficiency, it can still cause this condition as well as make it much more severe. If you have any type of a history where you have bleed from your bowels or stomach, experienced heavy menstrual periods, or you are a frequent blood donator, there is a very good chance that you have an iron deficiency.
If you are suffering from RLS ask your doctor to check two things; your blood iron levels as well as your blood levels of ferritin. Ferritin is an iron-protein complex that is the main storage form of iron in your body and most people that have RLS will show low levels of it without any signs of iron-deficiency anemia. If fact, in most case your iron blood levels may be normal. It is also important to note that there are other nutrients that will help or enhance iron in your body. Vitamin A is very helpful when taking iron supplements as it helps to mobilize iron that is stored in your body’s storage units.
Zinc is also very important as it helps to increase the hemoglobin levels in your blood if you do take iron supplements. Folic acid, which is the synthetic form of folate and a water soluble vitamin from the B-class, helps to produce as well as maintain new cells in your body through the process of creating both DNA and RNA. It is believed that folate can protect cells from changes to DNA as well as helping to make red blood cells, which are critical in preventing anemia. Some people do not have the correct enzymes to convert folate into its bioactive form, and because of this, it may also need to be supplemented.
However, it is also very important to note that if you are older and do have a deficiency of folate, there is a very good chance you may have a deficiency of other B vitamins. Magnesium does not seem to have the same fighting power with RLS as these other nutrients, but it has been demonstrated in several tests that it can help to relieve the severity of the symptoms as it seems to have a calming effect in some cases.
Restless legs syndrome does some have effective drugs to help prevent it, but like most all drugs, there is the potential of side effects. Although this condition is not considered to be a threat to your overall health, it can still be very troubling if you suffer from it. Treating it naturally with these nutrients may be the answer you are looking for without the risk of side effects.
Restless legs syndrome. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/restless_legs/detail_restless_legs.htm
Restless legs syndrome: Causes, diagnosis and treatment. Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation. http://www.rls.org/Document.Doc?&id=428