Minerals Support Sound Sleep.
A metabolic sleep disorder that causes tingling, twitching, creeping sensations, cramps, burning, or aches in the lower limbs, Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a common problem. It can develop at any time—but mostly strikes from middle age on.
New research reports that the overall prevalence of this sleep disorder is 23 percent—much higher than previously believed. “Some risk factors for restless legs syndrome appear to be more common among women,” says Ammar Alkhazna, MD, at the University of Missouri.
White women are four times more likely to experience restless legs than black women, research finds. “There are significant ethnic differences in the prevalence of restless legs syndrome, but the exact causes of higher prevalence among Caucasians are unknown,” says Dr. Alkhazna.
“This likely reflects a combination of factors, including a genetic predisposition,” he adds, as well as diet—including iron intake—and medications. “Women are more likely to be iron deficient than men and have rheumatoid arthritis, which are known risk factors for RLS.”
Dr. Ann Louise’s Take:
I agree with Dr. Alkhazna on the role of iron deficiency in restless legs. Women lose two to 4 tablespoons of blood each month during menstruation—and that translates into 15 to 30 mg of iron lost!
The contraceptive intrauterine device (IUD) increases menstrual blood loss, causing even more iron loss in women. Pregnancy and childbirth further deplete iron stores.
Many weight loss diets—particularly those that avoid iron-rich meat and eggs to cut calories—also create iron deficits in the body. If you have restless legs, get a blood ferritin (the protein that stores and releases iron as the body needs it) test to rule out deficiency.
An Iron-Rich Diet
At best, only 30 percent of this mineral ingested is absorbed, so women need to eat more iron than they need—just to get enough. Heme iron from animal protein is the best dietary source of this mineral, although non-heme iron leafy greens, dried beans, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and blackstrap molasses can be useful.
Cooking in iron pans also provides small amounts of this vital mineral to the diet. You can also enhance iron absorption by eating foods high in vitamin C (bell peppers, citrus fruit, dark green veggies, strawberries, and tomatoes).
Calcium inhibits iron absorption, so avoid dairy when you’re eating meat. And don’t take iron and calcium supplements within two hours of each other.
To Relieve Restless Legs
While all those TV commercials for RLS drugs may sound tempting, meds like REQUIP have significant adverse effects: dizziness, nausea, and (in some cases) hallucinations. There have even been reports of compulsive behaviors—gambling, intense sexual urges—with this drug.
Magnesium is a natural sleep aid. Because it relaxes muscles as well, this mineral is also useful for restless legs syndrome. I recommend taking 400 to 1,000 mg daily—or up to bowel tolerance (magnesium is also very effective in relieving constipation).
New research shows that another supplement I like, D-ribose (which enhances energy production in the body) has been found to help men with restless legs. While D-ribose may not totally eliminate discomfort, it substantially improves sleep quality.
Caffeine can increase the risk for restless legs. Cut out coffee, soft drinks, and tea—as well as chocolate and any meds that contain caffeine.
Enjoy a warm bath before turning in and massage your legs to relax your muscles. Get moderate exercise regularly, and be sure to stretch your leg muscles gently if you overdo it at the gym.