While in bed have you ever had the intense urge to get up and run a mile or do 100 squats even though all you want to do is go to sleep? Have you ever experienced a creepy crawly sensation in your legs that keeps you up at night? If so, you may be among 12 million Americans who suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome or RLS.
If you didn’t already know, Restless Leg Syndrome is a neurological disorder that primarily affects the legs (and the arms too on occasion) that is often hereditary. It mostly affects women especially those who are pregnant. People who suffer from RLS often experience aches, pains, tingling, twitching, burning, spasms, and other unpleasant sensations in the legs while lying down or sitting. The symptoms are aggravated by rest and relieved by constant movement. People with RLS often toss and turn at night or get up frequently to get some measure of relief but find it doesn’t help. As soon as they lay back down symptoms promptly return. Coupled with a serious lack of sleep RLS can really affect a person’s quality of life by causing fatigue and incessant drowsiness during the day.
Doctors will tell you that there is no known cure for Restless Leg Syndrome and are all too happy to serve you a cocktail of opioids, tranquilizers, anticonvulsants, and even Parkinson’s disease medications…not to mention the additional medications needed to counteract the side effects of these drugs. Honestly, who doesn’t want a nice dose of nausea, fatigue, or amnesia along with a chance to reduce their RLS symptoms? Sadly, a lot of people. RLS is maddening enough for even the most crunchy individual to consider prescribed medicines.
Fortunately, there are a few Restless Leg Syndrome home remedies that not only relieve symptoms but can stop them altogether. I have suffered from occasional RLS since my early twenties so I know what it’s like to toss and turn as your precious sleep is being stolen away from you. After a few years of trial and error, I can now say that I am symptom-free!
Here’s what I’ve learned about the causes of RLS and how to manage it naturally without harsh medications.
What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?
I know RLS can be maddening, but what causes restless legs to begin with? What causes restless legs at night?
It turns out that there isn’t one straightforward answer. Restless leg syndrome can be caused by various things ranging from hormonal imbalances to nutritional deficiencies.
I’ve compiled a list below that covers the most common causes for RLS and how to use home remedies and natural alternatives to help get rid of it.
Hypothyroidism and Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen has a funny way of creating havoc when there’s too much of it floating freely in the body. For one, too much estrogen in the body depletes B-vitamins which in turn causes neurological issues. These problems often manifest themselves as those all too familiar creepy-crawly sensations in the legs.
Estrogen dominance can be caused by:
• Improper diet- Too much process foods
• An overburdened liver- The liver is focusing on dealing with the toxic overload of bad lifestyle choices. This lets excess hormones recirculate into the bloodstream
• No ovulation
• Prescribed artificial estrogen
• Frequent contact with xeno/phytoestrogens in our environment like plastics and soy products
Having thyroid problems affects our estrogen levels tremendously and getting your condition under control is one of the best ways to relieve RLS symptoms. Supporting your liver with herbs like milk thistle and dandelion root is also a good place to start. Getting your blood tested by your GP is also recommended.
As mentioned above, B-vitamins play an important role in our neurological health. Without proper supplementation through a healthy diet, our nervous system begins to lose its ability to communicate between our brain and the rest of the body. This often contributes to RLS.
One of the most common causes of RLS is magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is needed to help release excess calcium from the cells so that smooth muscles can relax for sleep. When we are deficient, these muscles can cramp, tighten, twitch, involuntarily jerk, and even cause the ever so pleasant Charlie horse.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get enough magnesium in your diet through food.
This is due to four main reasons:
1. Soil depletion which in turn makes crops deficient in magnesium
2. Magnesium is very difficult to absorb in the digestive tract
3. Stress causes us to burn through our stores of magnesium more quickly
4. Medications like birth control pills, Maalox, and Ritalin deplete magnesium
Sounds a bit hopeless, doesn’t it? However, there is light at the end of the tunnel – magnesium just so happens to absorb well through the skin. Some of the best ways to get it are magnesium oil, Epsom salt, magnesium flakes, and a highly absorbable form that you can take internally known as pico-ionic magnesium. These can be used daily to keep your magnesium levels up.
Some studies have shown a correlation between iron deficiency and dopamine levels- a cofactor that plays an integral role in the etiology of RLS. Low dopamine levels can cause that fidgety sensation which is why Parkinson’s disease drugs work. They increase dopamine levels which help to relax the smooth muscles.
Now, before you run off to buy an iron supplement there is something you should consider.
First, magnesium and iron compete for the same receptor sites in the body so taking too much iron could actually decrease your absorption of magnesium. Over time this can cause your body to burn through your Magnesium stores too quickly, especially if you are prone to stress.
Second, if you have a damaged gut (i.e. leaky gut) supplementing with iron can actually make your deficiency worse. This is because these people often have an overgrowth of iron-loving bacteria that grow stronger with iron supplementation. If this is the case, you will need to heal your gut first before reaping the benefits of iron supplementation. If this is the case, all you can do is eat high-quality wholesome foods appropriate for your condition until you are able to take iron. I recommend the GAPS diet or Autoimmune Paleo Protocol.
Medication Side Effects
You may be surprised to learn that some of the medicines you take can contribute to RLS and even worsen its symptoms.
These medications include:
• Calcium channel blockers
• Anti-nausea drugs
• Tricyclic antidepressants
• Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
• Phenytoin (an anticonvulsant drug)
• Some cold and allergy medications
I strongly encourage you to check the labels of any medication you take to see if RLS is a side effect. If so, you can take steps to work with your doctor on finding a suitable replacement.
The Top 6 Home Remedies for RLS
Alright, so you had to see this one coming but I swear by it. Since I began exercising for 20-30 per day I have found that I sleep symptom-free. This is because exercise increases dopamine in the body. The more appropriately balanced your dopamine levels are the better you can manage RLS.
Some of my all-time favorite routines are:
• Focus T25– an intense 25-minute workout you do 5 days a week that makes you feel amazing!
• Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred– 20-25 minute workouts to get you moving
• P90x3– intense 30-minute workouts
You can also go hiking, take long walks, go swimming, go biking, or do any other exercise that really gets your legs pumping. The key here is a nice feeling “burn” from exercise. Anything less doesn’t work as well so make sure to put in some effort if you can.
Eating a diet high in processed foods and sugar can severely overburden your liver. The excess toxins from such a diet can allow excess estrogen and other hormones to recirculate into the bloodstream. As discussed above, excess estrogen depletes both B-vitamins and magnesium, two integral factors for a healthy nervous system. Let’s not forget that RLS is a neurological disorder so a healthy nervous system is integral to managing it.
I recommend avoiding all processed foods and drink, avoid gluten, limit alcohol and smoking as much as possible, and consider changing out all cooking oils to healthier options like coconut oil, avocado oil, and EVOO. Eat tons of fresh produce, organ meats, fresh fish, and healthy fats to help heal your gut to ensure a proper variety of essential nutrients.
3. Up Your Magnesium
This one is so easy to do and I bet it will make a HUGE difference in just a few days.
My favorite magnesium supplements/topical applications are:
• Ancient Minerals Magnesium Oil
• Life-flo Pure Magnesium Oil
• Life-flo Pure Nightime Magnesium Oil
• Magnesium Bath flakes
• Epsom Salts
• Trace Minerals Ionic Magnesium
• Natural Calm Magnesium (one of my favorites!)
The magnesium oils work especially well when sprayed on the bottoms of the feet before bedtime.
Never underestimate the power of magnesium! Try this remedy if nothing else.
For those of you who are crafty, you can try making magnesium bath bombs.
4. Up Your B-Vitamins
I high-quality B-vitamin will never go amiss in this day and age. Even people who eat meat can get deficiencies in B-vitamins especially B12.
My top B-vitamin supplements are:
It is best to take B complex earlier in the day as it can increase energy levels and keep you up at night if taken too late in the evening. I often pair it with lunch for best results and it keeps me going through the afternoon.
5. Up Your Iron
I’m not so much a fan of taking straight iron due to its tendency to cause constipation. I am however a huge fan of food based iron supplements such as:
These supplements do not cause digestive upset and are easily absorbed by the body. Make sure to take iron supplements earlier in the day and magnesium later in the evening so that both can utilize the available receptor sites in the body.
6. Take Relaxing Herbs
Believe it or not, taking strong sleep inducing herbs like valerian can actually increase RLS symptoms. However, there are a few herbs that are well suited to relieving RLS symptoms like:
These herbs are best taken about an hour before bedtime for best results.
Using these simple all natural remedies should give you results in as little as a few days. Some people are so deficient in magnesium that even just a single application on the bottoms of the feet can knock them out in no time. Everyone is different so listen to your body and see what works best for you!
What have been your favorite Restless Leg Syndrome home remedies?
Don’t miss these other posts on RLS:
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