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Restless Legs Syndrome - Causes and Top 10 Natural Remedies

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November 14, 2010, Last Updated April 6, 2011
By Louise Carr, Contributing Columnist

Who Suffers Most From Restless Legs Syndrome?

Another mystery of restless legs syndrome is why women are more likely to suffer than men – twice as likely, according to 1999 research from the Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center at the Mayo Clinic. Restless legs syndrome can strike at any age although it is more commonly found in middle-aged or older adults.

Children aren’t immune - the National Institutes of Health estimates one million school children suffer from restless legs syndrome. Restless legs syndrome often begins in pregnancy, usually occurring during the last three months. In most cases restless legs syndrome disappears after the birth but some women continue to have symptoms and some will develop the condition again in the future.

What Can You Do?

Restless legs syndrome may be with you for life – unfortunately, many experts believe restless legs syndrome has no real cure. However, you shouldn’t suffer in silence. Many people put off going to the doctor to complain of restless legs syndrome, thinking they will find it hard to describe their symptoms and concerned the doctor won’t take it seriously.

The condition may have a light-hearted name but restless legs syndrome is a serious complaint. In severe cases, restless legs syndrome can cause sleep deprivation and exhaustion and may disrupt work, personal relationships and daily activities.

Restless legs syndrome also increases the risk of heart disease, according to a 2007 study from the University of Montreal’s Sacré-Coeur Hospital. The movement of your legs can increase blood pressure – up by an average of 20 points for the systolic reading and by an average of 11 points for the diastolic reading, the study says.

Newer research confirms the connection between restless legs syndrome and heart problems. A 2011  research study from the Mayo Clinic led by Dr. Arshad Jahangir  has found that those who suffer from restless leg syndrome are far more likely to also suffer from a heart condition involving the thickening of the heart wall. Thick hearts make it more likely that you will have cardiac problems, stroke and a higher risk of death.

Research shows therapies, drugs and remedies can help minimize symptoms and calm your restless legs. What can you do to ease the symptoms of restless legs syndrome? Are there natural remedies for restless leg's syndrome? Which remedies are best for a good night’s rest?

We’ve pulled together advice from the experts and found the Top 10  natural remedies to help you treat restless legs syndrome and find some peace:

1. Cut Out the Caffeine to Help Restless Legs Syndrome

Avoid caffeine, say the experts, to help your restless legs. And alcohol, and tobacco. In fact, try cutting back on all three of these drugs together for a few weeks to see if your symptoms improve. Switch caffeinated drinks - including that tempting hot chocolate - with herbal teas, milk and juice, particularly in the afternoon and before sleep. Alcohol and tobacco may trigger your symptoms but it’s unclear if these substances can cause restless legs syndrome in the first place.

2. Is Iron Deficiency Responsible for Restless Legs Syndrome?

Could iron – or rather, a lack of it – be causing your legs to twitch? Some experts maintain that low levels of iron in the brain are responsible for restless legs syndrome.

In a 1998 study from Johns Hopkins University Department of Psychology, Baltimore an analysis of the medical records of 27 restless legs syndrome sufferers found those with the most severe symptoms also had lower than average serum ferritin levels, a measure of iron deficiency. In a 2007 genetics study from Hreinn Stefansson et al, people who had the gene variant within BTBD9 on chromosome 6 also had 13 percent lower serum ferritin levels. Iron deficiency may cause restless legs syndrome by decreasing the transmission of dopamine in the body.

Some studies have shown injections of iron help the symptoms of restless legs syndrome in individuals who don’t have an iron deficiency. One 2003 study from Penn State University College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania suggests iron deficiency isn’t the issue – the problem is caused by the inefficiency of certain brain cells in processing the iron you have.

Researchers performed autopsies on the brains of restless legs sufferers and found very few transferrin receptors, which are responsible for transporting iron to cells, meaning iron wasn’t being delivered to the brain cells in an effective way. You shouldn’t take iron supplements without a doctor’s advice, as large doses of iron can cause headaches, low blood pressure, coma and even death.

3. Take a Look at Your Folate Levels

It’s not just iron under the microscope when looking for restless legs syndrome causes. Folate is often recommended for treating restless legs syndrome and a 1976 study by MI Botez found symptoms decreased in the 45 patients given 5 to 30mg of folate daily. Pregnant women with restless legs syndrome may benefit from nutritional doses of folate – don’t take high doses as these should only be taken under medical supervision.

4. Can Magnesium Treat Restless Legs Syndrome?

Magnesium is another supplement that may be put to good use in treating restless legs syndrome. A 1998 study from Albert-Ludwigs-University, Freiburg, Germany discovered that sleep improved significantly when restless legs syndrome sufferers took a dose of magnesium each night for four to six weeks. Further research is needed to verify these results.

5. Change Your Sleep Pattern to Ease Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome

Keeping to a healthy sleep regime can help you decrease the movement of your restless legs and bring you some much-needed relief. Tiredness is known to bring on the symptoms of restless legs syndrome so make sure you’re getting enough sleep and keeping to a stable pattern of rest. Help yourself drop off by creating a cool, comfortable sleeping environment. Restless legs syndrome is often characterized by a period of highly disrupted sleep in the early night and a symptom-free period early in the morning, so you may benefit from going to bed late and getting up later.

6. Massage Helps Restless Legs Syndrome

See if you benefit from a little pampering, and try massaging your legs before you lie down, stretching the limbs and toes, taking a whirlpool bath or a foot spa. Many restless legs syndrome sufferers apply warming and cooling pads which can lessen the unpleasant sensations in your legs.

7. Can Exercise Help?

Exercise may be beneficial, but over exercising can cause more harm than good, particularly if you exercise late in the day. Save the heavy workouts for the mornings and try a gentle yoga or stretching exercise routine in the evening.

8. Vitamins for Restless Legs Syndrome

One vitamin that’s highlighted for restless legs syndrome is vitamin E. A study from Ayres and Milhan in 1973 gave 400 to 800 IU of vitamin E daily to nine patients and found seven of them experienced a complete control of their symptoms and two experienced partial relief. Vitamin C may be useful for restless legs syndrome, as may vitamin B12.

9. Medication: Friend or Foe for Restless Legs Syndrome?

Don’t hit the medicine cabinet too hard when trying to reduce your restless legs syndrome symptoms. Some medications can make your symptoms worse, including anti-nausea drugs and over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines that are packed with sedating antihistamines. A 2008 study from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found allergy drugs that help you sleep make restless legs syndrome worse. When activated, the histamine receptors stimulate alertness. Mild pain relievers like Advil or Motrin, however, may bring you relief.

10. Stay Mentally Alert

It may seem strange to suggest that making your brain more active will help you relax, but in the case of restless legs syndrome drowsiness and boredom before bed can make symptoms worse. Increase your mental alertness in the evening with crossword puzzles, board games, reading, or video games. Distract yourself to help lessen the twitches and you may find restless legs syndrome becomes a thing of the past.

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