Isn't it interesting how the medical community climbs on a disease's bandwagon just as soon as a drug is developed to treat said disease? Almost no disease provides better proof of this phenomenon than Restless Leg Syndrome (HERE). Restless Leg is one of those problems that a decade ago, hardly anyone had ever heard of. Now it's everywhere. Is it a real problem? And if so, what is it, what causes it, and what can be done about it? Follow along as I show you the truth about Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).
People with RLS are invariably plagued by paresthesias (odd or uncomfortable sensations such as numbness, tingling, 'crawlies', tickling, pins and needles, itching, and numerous others) which, while not usually horrendously painful, are unpleasant to say the least. And sometimes these sensations are mixed in with pain; occurring most commonly in the legs, but with the potential to happen in almost any part of the body. People constantly move or shake the affected body part because doing so tends to provide some temporary (key word, 'temporary') relief. One of the biggest problems associated with Restless Leg Syndrome is that many of the sufferers, not surprisingly, have trouble sleeping. Furthermore, according to a 1996 study published in the journal Neurology (The `Night-Walkers' Survey), nearly half of those with Restless Leg started having their symptoms prior to age 20. In other words, contrary to popular belief, RLS is not an "Old People's" disease. Of this younger group, the most common diagnosis (or misdiagnosis as the case may be) ---- that old standby used to describe all sorts of childhood pains --- "Growing Pains". (The analogous catch-all phrase for adults is "ARTHRITIS".)
Thus, people with Restless Leg Syndrome have an uncontrollable (yes, it is literally "uncontrollable") urge to move. I have actually had patients tell me that trying to fight this urge to move is like trying to perpetually suppress a yawn or a sneeze ---- only worse. You can do it for awhile, but eventually you're going to fail. As you might imagine, this makes things like traveling, sitting through a wedding, reading a book, watching a movie, or trying to make it through a board meeting, difficult to say the least. For some people with severe cases, it can be impossible. It also means that these people cannot rest, relax, or chill out.
Nearly 20 years ago, I successfully treated a waitress who worked at a 24 hour truck stop. Her restless legs had already cost her a marriage, and she was so bad that she would work 2 or 3 shifts back-to-back. When she was utterly exhausted, she could go home and get 2-3 hours of uninterrupted sleep before her legs would wake her up, and she had to get up and begin moving again. As you might imagine, sitting down to watch a television show or read a book was out of the question.
WHAT CAUSES RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME?
Typically, if you have some kind of idea of what causes a certain health problem, it dramatically ups your chances of defeating it. Restless Leg Syndrome is no different. However, RLS is a very SYSTEMIC PROBLEM that can be brought, worsened, or flared up by an array of different things. Some of these include.....
ANEMIA: People with Restless Leg Syndrome often have issues with iron (Iron Deficiency Anemia or increased iron storage). They also tend to have Folic Acid deficiencies as well as B-12 deficiencies and Pernicious Anemia.
ADRENAL FATIGUE / FIBROMYALGIA: This is not surprising once you understand what FIBROMYALGIA really is or what causes it. In fact, severalENDOCRINE PROBLEMS are associated with Restless Leg Syndrome.
AUTOIMMUNITY: There are a number of AUTOIMMUNE DISEASESwhich have been specifically tied to Restless Leg Syndrome by the peer-reviewed literature (HERE is a list of various Autoimmune Diseases). Some of these include HASHIMOTO'S THYROID DISEASE, RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS, Sjogren's Syndrome, and CELIAC DISEASE to name a few (bear in mind that there is lots of evidence linking NON-CELIAC GLUTEN SENSITIVITY to Restless Leg Syndrome as well). By the way, even though the standard line is that the cause or RLS is unkown (idiopathic), many in the research community believe it to be an Autoimmune Disease, despite the fact that the specific tissue the body is attacking has not yet been discovered. This is how IBS was until very recently.
DEPRESSION & ADHD: Several studies have shown that people with DEPRESSION or ADHD, have significantly higher incidences of Restless Leg Syndrome.
SLEEP APNEA: Apparently, not only do people who have Restless Leg struggle with INSOMNIA, they also struggle with SLEEP APNEA as well.
PARKINSON'S DISEASE: Because at least part of the brain that is affected in Restless Leg Syndrome, is also affected in PARKINSON'S DISEASE (problems with the neurotransmitter Dopamine), there is an intimate connection between the two.
VERICOSE VEINS: For whatever reason, a 2007 study published in the journal Phlebology (Restless Legs Syndrome in Patients with Chronic Venous Disorders: An Untold Story) revealed that people being treated in "Phlebology Clinics" (likely for vericosities) doubled their chances of ending up with RLS when compared with a control group.
CERTAIN PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: When people go off of NARCOTICS, SLEEPING PILLS, and VALIUM; or take things like ANTIDEPRESSANTS, Anti-psychotics, Antihistamines, or Anti-convulsants; they put themselves at risk for developing Restless Leg Syndrome.
CERTAIN SURGERIES:It has been said that certain surgeries --- or even injuries --- particularly when they affect THE SPINE, are somehow related to Restless Leg Syndrome.
PREGNANCY: If Restless Leg Syndrome is the result of PREGNANCY, it typically occurs in the third trimester and goes away shortly (within a month) after giving birth.
GENETIC FACTORS: Listen; I fully realize that genetics play a huge part in all sorts of sickness and disease. I also realize that in many, if not the majority of cases, EPIGENETICS trumps genetics. This means that it may not be as simple as blaming it on mom and dad.
HOW TO TREAT PEOPLE WITH RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME NATURALLY
In the previous section, I mentioned that knowing what causes a problem is the first step in solving it. Unfortunately, when you look at the list above, it is difficult to come up with a common denominator. A couple studies showed that most RLS sufferers were overweight and did not exercise. The problem is, when you factor in those who are SKINNY FAT, that accounts for over 80% of our nation. Still; what can be done to solve this problem?
As is typically the case, the medical community thinks they have the best answers. Who knows; maybe they do? But other than Narcotics and Anti-convulsants (two drugs that made the list of things that actually cause or flare RLS in the first place) the main line of defense is a class of drug called "Dopamine Agonists" (Ropinirole, Pramipexole, Carbidopa / Levodopa or Pergolide --- some of the same meds used to treat Parkinson's). But listen to what a popular online encyclopedia has to say about this class of drug. "There are, however, issues with the use of dopamine agonists. Dopamine agonists have caused augmentation. This is a medical condition where the drug itself causes symptoms to increase in severity and/or occur earlier in the day. Dopamine agonists may also cause rebound, when symptoms increase as the drug wears off. In many cases, the longer dopamine agonists are used the higher the risk of augmentation and rebound as well as the severity of the symptoms. Also, a recent study indicated that dopamine agonists used in restless leg syndrome patients can lead to an increase in compulsive gambling." In English, this means that the longer you are on the drug, the greater the chance of bad side effects and the less chance the drug is going to work for you. Which brings us to the question of what a person can do to deal with this problem without the drugs.
Because it is considered to be a form of NEUROPATHY, the first two things you are going to have to do is to STRICTLY CONTROL your Blood Sugar and go GLUTEN FREE. Furthermore, because it's likely that it is an Autoimmune Disease, you'll have to either assume that you haveLEAKY GUT SYNDROME, or get tested for it, and then deal with the underlying GUT HEALTH ISSUES. HERE and HERE are a couple of "Big Picture" catch-all articles for generically dealing with a wide array of health problems. However, I am going to leave you with a few specific things that you can try that have been shown to help RLS in at least a portion of those who suffer with the problem. These are in no particular order and may have no SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE to back them up other than anecdotal. Please note that this post is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. Only your doctor can do that (cough cough).
IVORY SOAP: I remember hearing this one from my mom several years ago. No one has a clue how it works, but putting a bar of Ivory Soap (no idea why it needs to be Ivory) in a sock, under the covers, at the foot of your bed, has numerous strong proponents from the online message boards. If it works, it works, and if it doesn't, it's harmless, so who cares.
HAVE MORE SEX: A study from the Neuro-Sono Sleep Center of the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at the Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil, was published in the April 2011 issue of the medical journal Sleep Medicine. Reading comments by readers of several blogs dealing with RLS was definitely an eye-opener. I must admit that I had a difficult time feeling sorry for the husband of the woman who commented that the only way she could control her Restless Legs was by having sex at least once a day for the past decade. By the way, if the ability to have sex is a trouble area for you, take a moment to readTHIS.
DEAL WITH THE ANEMIA: This might mean that you need to see a specialist in Functional Medicine. Simply taking iron or B-VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS is often not enough. Also be aware that many people with poor GUT HEALTH have various forms and stages of DYSBIOSIS --- usually caused by ANTIBIOTICS, and fed by SUGAR. Or fed by iron itself. That's right; according to numerous scientists including DR. CAMPBELL-McBRIDE, several strains of dysbiotic bacteria actually feed and thrive on iron (Actinomyces spp., Mycobacterium spp., pathogenic strains of E. coli, Corynebacterium spp., others). Thus, an underlying Dysbiosis can leave even people who consume plenty of iron, deficient, by consuming their host's intake. I have seen people recommend a combination of Apple Cider Vinegar and Blackstrap Molasses (the increased acid boosts absorption (HERE), while the Molasses is high in iron). The best way to get plenty of quality iron is from consuming red meat.
MAGNESIUM AND TRACE MINERALS: First, you need to be aware of how many different drugs deplete the body of Magnesium. Secondly, you have to understand how critical this mineral is for a wide variety of biochemical / metabolic pathways. Add those two things together and you can see where things go south for many people. One of the biggest proponents of getting plenty of Magnesium is DR. RUSSELL BLAYLOCK, the Mississippi Neurosurgeon who wrote the book on Excitotoxins (ASPARTAME & MSG) nearly 25 years ago.
VARIOUS HERBS: There are a whole host of herbs, tonics, tinctures, and homeopathics out there that different people swear by. You can do your own research on this one. One that you might try is Hyland's Restful Legs.
CHIROPRACTIC & ACUPUNCTURE: Over the two and a half decades I have been in Chiropractic, I have personally seen numerous people respond favorably to both of these methods of healing. It's not difficult to understand once you see how CHIROPRACTIC affects the Nervous System.
BRAIN-BASED THERAPY / OXYGEN: I have seen it postulated that the Basal Ganglia is the part of the brain most commonly fouled up in people with Restless Leg Syndrome (The Basal Ganglia are associated with voluntary motor control, procedural learning, eye movements, cognitive and emotional functions, and others. Problems here lead to movement disorders, Parkinson's, Huntington's, Tourette Syndrome, OCD andADDICTIVE BEHAVIORS such as GAMBLING). OXYGEN is almost always beneficial for people with chronic brain problems, as is BRAIN-BASED THERAPY. EXERCISE is super beneficial for stimulating the brain as well.
COLD LASER THERAPY: One of the therapies that has shown a beneficial affect on NEUROPATHY is COLD LASER THERAPY. Since Restless Leg is thought by many experts to be a form of Neuropathy, it stands to reason that this may prove helpful for many people.
Dr. Schierling completed four years of Kansas State University's five-year Nutrition / Exercise Physiology Program before deciding on a career in Chiropractic. He graduated from Logan Chiropractic College in 1991, and has run a busy clinic in Mountain View, Missouri ever since. He and his wife Amy have four children (three daughters and a son).