Are You on the Restless Leg Rollercoaster?
Oct 29 2007 …
You go to bed at the end of the day, exhausted. As you start to relax and almost drift off, your legs feel like they are having a party of their own and the other end of your body. You toss and turn all night, sometimes resorting to sleep medications. Finally, when you are at your zenith of sleep deprivation and irritability, you seek medical help. If you headed in to your allopathic doctor, you were put on an assortment of medications to make you fall asleep, the keep the legs still, and to keep you awake the next day from the effects of the sedatives. And still, months later you are exhausted and still not feeling like you get to live the healthy life that you seek. Or you are drinking 10 cups of coffee during the day which makes you able to barely function.
If this scenario is familiar, consider getting off at the next stop of the ride and seek naturopathic care. Finding and treating the cause of disease is the focus of naturopathic medicine. And there is hope, not only for actually feeling better and ending the struggle with the internal wiggles, but also to get off of the myriad of medications.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) affects millions of Americans each year. It may be little consolation that you are not alone.
A naturopathic treatment plan would look something like this. In the office we discuss all of the permutations of what is going on with you. Since no illness (or wellness for that matter) exists in a vacuum or state of separation in your body, we would look not only at your legs and your sleep, but also at every other system. This can often lead to the clues that will take us down the path of total health.
The medications that are often used to treat RLS dont get to the root of the problem. For many people, they just make them extremely groggy and unable to enjoy any evening activities with friends or family.
One of the first things to look at is possible nutrient deficiency, particularly things like calcium, magnesium and the b vitamins. They are all important for proper muscle function. Many medications cause further nutrient depletions, and excess coffee intake only compounds the problem as it decreases your absorption and acts as a diuretic, pulling nutrients out of your digestive tract.
Anemia can also cause RLS, and can be ruled out by a simple blood test called a CBC.
Taking a high quality, triple-chelated magnesium in the evening may be a good place to begin. Magnesium is an excellent muscle relaxant, and the triple-chelation helps keep it from causing loose stools, a common side effect of many cheaper forms of magnesium. Taking an Epsom salt bath is another good option. Epsom salts are made of magnesium sulfate, which will be absorbed through the skin during the bath. This is wonderful for helping to induce a sound sleep, as well as relaxing all of your muscles, including your legs. (Note: Taken orally magnesium sulfate can induce cramps and diarrhea.) Make sure that your digestive function is absolutely optimal. Most naturopathic doctors will agree that digestion is the seat of good health. As this is the site of all nutrient absorption and much toxin elimination, being certain that it is doing its work without interference is key. In my practice I find that asking about digestion is not enough. Most people will say, Oh, its fine. But when I dig a little deeper and ask more specific questions, I discover great room for improvement. Okay, prepare yourself for the poop talk… You should have at least one bowel movement daily. Having one after each meal is even more ideal. They should be well formed and easy to pass. There should be minimal gas and no bloating and excessive gurgling. You should not have regular heartburn (yes, this is you if you are popping Tums or a prescription medication for GERD or reflux). You should not have cramping or diarrhea on any kind of regular basis (meaning other than when you are sick with the flu).
If you have any of those symptoms, working to correct that will not only help your RLS, but many other symptoms you may be experiencing. How to correct it is a volume that I will share in detail in another article. But some simple things to consider are digestive enzymes, probiotics (the good flora in your gut), and eliminating food allergens.
The food allergy question is one that I find comes up often with my patients. Most people are not coming in because they think that they have them. They are coming in for RLS, migraines, childhood ear infections, ADHD, eczema or infertility. I have seen elimination of food allergens help so many unexpected conditions; I wish we could run a good IgG serum panel on everyone who comes in the office. I recently saw a child with seizures come up with a myriad of food allergens. Digestive problems are common too, but that doesnt have to be present for there to be some.
I am not talking about the ones that cause anaphylaxis, like the ones you hear about with peanuts and little kids whose throats swell shut if they even get near them. These are delayed (IgG) allergens and are much trickier to uncover. Mostly because we rarely eat one food at a time. And the reaction is more systemic and chronic, like recurrent infections, fatigue or eczema.
So how do they cause your legs to jump like little frogs at night? That question has not been completely answered. My theory is that the allergenic foods cause dysfunction in your gut, so that you are not able to properly absorb nutrients. Inflammation is also part of the picture, as foods you are allergic/intolerant of generally cause inflammation as they pass through the digestive tract without being properly broken down. I believe that food allergies, because we can detect levels of the immune globulin IgG in the serum, cause a layer of inflammation throughout the body, like the soap scum on the shower. And wherever your weak spot is (if you are reading this, my guess is that it is your restless legs) that is where the problem will begin.
B vitamins are also not to be overlooked as a treatment option. I feel that the many medications and poor quality nutrition so prevalent in our culture make us much more susceptible to a B vitamin deficiency. B vitamins are extremely important for many functions in the body, including nerve and muscle function, as well as hormone and neurotransmitter production. The B vitamins work synergistically together so giving them as a B Complex makes the most sense. They are very fragile. So ideally they should be kept in the refrigerator and taken with meals to enhance absorption. For people with food allergies or other signs of nutrient malabsorption, I often give B vitamin injections. This bypasses the digestive tract, helping people to feel better right away. People think of taking B vitamins to increase their energy, but since they are important for proper muscle function, which includes relaxation as well as work, it often helps people with RLS feel more relaxed and their legs to stay still in bed.
No matter how long one has been suffering from RLS, it is not too late to seek treatment such as naturopathic care, which will look to find and treat the cause of the problem, rather than just cover the symptoms with a leaky bandaid.