Restless Legs Syndrome (Holistic)
About This Condition
Balance your blood sugar
Replace sugar, refined flour, and alcohol in your diet with small, frequent meals containing whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables
Cut the caffeine
Help reduce the severity of RLS by steering clear of coffee, tea, and other sources of caffeine
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a poorly understood condition that causes leg symptoms shortly before going to sleep—symptoms that are temporarily relieved by movement. Occasionally the condition may also involve the arms. It can cause sudden jerking motions of the legs and can lead to Reference insomnia.
RLS is most common in middle-aged women, Reference pregnant women, and people with severe kidney disease, Reference rheumatoid arthritis, and nerve diseases (neuropathy). Restless legs have also been reported to occur in people with Reference varicose veins and to be relieved when the varicose veins are treated.1
RLS is characterized by an almost irresistible urge to move the affected limbs because of unpleasant sensations beneath the skin, which are described as creeping, crawling, itching, aching, tingling, drawing, searing, pulling, or Reference painful. These symptoms occur primarily in the calf area but may be felt anywhere in the legs or arms. The sensations are typically worse during rest or decreased activity, such as lying down or sitting for prolonged periods.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips
Anecdotal evidence suggests that RLS symptoms my decrease with a cessation of smoking.2 Although additional research is needed to confirm such reports, a trial of smoking cessation seems prudent for people who suffer from restless legs.
The right diet is the key to managing many diseases and to improving general quality of life. For this condition, scientific research has found benefit in the following healthy eating tips.
|Balance your blood sugar||
Replace sugar, refined flour, caffeine, and alcohol in your diet with small, frequent meals containing whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Preliminary studies of large groups of people with reactive Reference hypoglycemia have reported that 8% have restless legs. These symptoms have been reported to improve following dietary modifications designed to regulate blood-sugar levels;3 changes included a sugar-free, high-protein diet along with frequent snacking and at least one night-time feeding.4 For patients with reactive hypoglycemia, some doctors recommend elimination of sugar, refined flour, Reference caffeine, and alcohol from the diet; eating small, frequent meals; and eating whole grains, nuts and seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables, and fish. One study found Reference caffeine ingestion to be associated with increased symptom severity in people with RLS.5
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Iron (Iron-Deficiency Anemia)
Consult a qualified healthcare practitioner
When iron deficiency is the cause of restless leg syndrome, supplementing with iron may reduce the severity of the symptoms.
Mild iron deficiency is common, even in people who are not anemic. When iron deficiency is the cause of RLS, supplementation with Reference iron has been reported to reduce the severity of the symptoms. In one trial, 74 mg of iron taken three times a day for two months, reduced symptoms in people with RLS.6 In people who are not deficient in iron, iron supplementation has been reported to not help reduce symptoms of RLS.7 Most people are not iron deficient, and taking too much can lead to adverse effects. Therefore, iron supplements should only be taken by people who have a diagnosed deficiency.
Refer to label instructions
People with familial restless leg syndrome appear to have an unusually high requirement for folic acid. Supplementing with folic acid may help relieve uncomfortable sensations.
In some people with RLS, the condition may be genetic. People with familial RLS appear to have inherited an unusually high requirement for Reference folic acid. Although not all people with RLS suffer from uncomfortable sensations, folate-deficient people with this condition always do.8 In one report, 45 people were identified to be from families with folic acid-responsive RLS. The amount of folic acid required to relieve their symptoms was extremely large, ranging from 5,000 to 30,000 mcg per day.9 Such amounts should only be taken under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
1 to 2 grams at bedtime
Preliminary research has shown some benefit reducing symptoms of restless legs syndrome and the insomnia that often accompanies it.
Since restless legs syndrome is often accompanied by insomnia, and L-tryptophan has been helpful for promoting sleep,10 one investigator treated two patients having both restless legs syndrome and insomnia with 1 to 2 grams of L-tryptophan at bedtime.11 In both cases restless legs symptoms improved as well as insomnia. Controlled research is needed to confirm these findings.
Refer to label instructions
Supplementing with magnesium may help relieve insomnia in people with restless leg syndrome.
In a preliminary trial, people with period limb movements during sleep (PLMS) or RLS who suffered from insomnia had a significant improvement in sleep efficiency after supplementing with Reference magnesium (about 300 mg each evening for four to six weeks).12
Refer to label instructions
In one study, supplementing with vitamin E produced complete relief in seven out of nine people with restless leg syndrome.
In a group of nine people with RLS, 300 IU of Reference vitamin E per day produced complete relief in seven.13 Doctors who give vitamin E to people with RLS generally recommend at least 400 IU of vitamin E per day, and the full benefits may not become apparent for three months.14
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1. Kanter AH. The effect of sclerotherapy on restless legs syndrome. Dermatol Surg 1995;21:328–32.
2. Mountifield JA. Restless leg syndrome relieved by cessation of cigarette smoking. Can Med Assoc J 1985;133:426.
3. Roberts HJ. Spontaneous leg cramps and “restless legs” due to diabetogenic hyperinsulinism: observations on 131 patients. J Am Geriatr Soc 1965;13:602–8.
4. Roberts HJ. Spontaneous leg cramps and “restless legs” due to diabetogenic (functional) hyperinsulinism. A basis for rational therapy. JFMA 1973;60:29–31.
5. Lutz EG. Restless legs, anxiety and caffeinism. J Clin Psychiatry 1978;39:693–8.
6. O’Keeffe ST, Gavin K, Lavan JN. Iron status and restless legs syndrome in the elderly. Age Ageing 1994;23:200–3.
7. Davis BJ, Rajput A, Rajput ML, et al. A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial of iron in restless legs syndrome. Eur Neurol 2000;43:70–5.
8. Botez MI. Neuropsychological correlates of folic acid deficiency: facts and hypotheses. in: Botez MI, Reynolds EH, eds. Folic Acid in Neurology, Psychiatry and Internal Medicine. New York: Raven Press, 1979.
9. Botez MI. Folate deficiency and neurological disorders in adults. Med Hypotheses 1976;2:135–40.
10. Sandyk R. L-tryptophan in neuropsychiatric disorders: a review. Int J Neurosci 1992;67:127-44 [review].
11. Sandyk R. L-Tryptophan in the treatment of restless legs syndrome. Am J Psychiatry 1986;143:554-5.
12. Hornyak M, Voderholzer U, Hohagen F, et al. Magnesium therapy for periodic leg movements-related insomnia and restless legs syndrome: an open pilot study. Sleep 1998;21:501–5.
13. Ayres S Jr, Mihan R. “Restless legs” syndrome: Response to vitamin E. J Appl Nutr 1973;25:8–15.
14. Ayres S, Mihan R. Leg cramps and “restless leg” syndrome responsive to vitamin E. Calif Med 1969;111:87–91.
Last Review: 11-07-2012
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2013.