Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Award-winning nutritionist and New York Times bestselling author.

November 25, 2009

Are Restless Legs Keeping You Awake?

Minerals Support Sound Sleep.

restless_legsA 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.

Sources:
www.mayoclinic.com/health/restless-legs-syndrome
http://meeting.chestpubs.org/cgi/content/abstract/136/4/66S-c

 

 

 

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Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty books including The Fat Flush Plan series and her latest book, Radical Metabolism. She’s been rewriting the rules of nutrition for more than 40 years and is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of diet, detox and women’s health issues. 

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11 Comments

  1. Cherise

    For me, grape juice with a raw egg blended in is by far the best iron supplement. With a teaspoon of flax oil added, it is a terrific cholesterol reducer as well. Most people think it sounds nasty, but most people I’ve coaxed into trying it think it tastes good. I started using it when I was told I was anemic in the seventh month of pregnancy. When my baby was born six weeks later, the doctor said my blood looked so good I didn’t need any iron supplement at all! I just grinned and kept on drinking my egg in grape juice everyday. Now I drink it during and after menstration.

    Reply
  2. Rosi

    I have suffered from RLS for appr. 30 years. However, intense iron supplement therapy after depletion from chemotherapie, did not make any diffrence. My iron still gets teted each month and is at a good level.
    After drinking slightly alkaline water, converted with a portable ionizer, for six full months daily and exlcusivley, I finnally got rid of RLS, and AHHH, how well I sleep now.

    Reply
  3. gee

    what is a portable ionizer? I have had rls for years and welcome info on alkaline water. Sounds good! Look forward to a reply. Thank you, Gee

    Reply
  4. Nancy

    I’ve had RLS since having my son 17 years ago, and what works for me is applying Dickinson’s Witch Hazel liberally to my legs at bedtime, and keeping it nearby just in case I need it at night. My worst time is during PMS, so I make sure I have it handy. Other brands such as Thayers are good, but stay away from store brands as they are really basically a waste of money.

    Reply
  5. roseann

    I SEE COMMENTS FROM PEOPLE WITH IRON DEFICIENCY, BUT I WAS WONDERING WHAT ABOUT WOMEN WHO HAVE HAD TOTAL HYSTERECTOMIES. WE HAVE NO SOURCE TO PASS BLOOD FRON OUR BODIES THRU MONTHLY PERIODS, I KNOW BLOOD DONATION TO RED CROSS IS AN ALTERNATIVE. AS FAR AS I KNOW THROUGH BLOOD WORKUP I AM SLIGHTLY ABOVE WHAT IS NORMAL FOR IRON,SO I HAVE NOT SUPPLEMENTED ADDITIONAL IRON OR HAVE YET DONATED BLOOD.

    WHAT IS YOUR THOUGHT ON THIS? THERE IS SO MUCH INFO OUT THERE WHERE DO YOU GO FROM HERE?

    THANK YOU.

    Reply
  6. AnnLouiseGittleman

    I would first off cut down on food sources of iron and make sure your Multis are iron-free as well. Sometimes excess Vitamin C elevates iron aborption. Get your water tested to rule out environmental sources of iron (like from wells) and then test your blood again. Your best bet, if all is well, is to donate blood to get those elevated levels down to normal.

    Reply
  7. Eliza

    My husband had RLS in the ’80s and no one (not even the best docs at a famous “teaching” hospital) could identify it.
    Then suddenly some drug company came up with some medication. Now every body knows about restless leg.
    Have you listened to all the warnings (all that stuff in the middle of the commercials)? Thanks for this advise!
    I’m just glad he got over it naturally (though I can’t say he got more iron)! We do eat more salads and greens (magnesium?)
    We both sleep much better these days.

    Reply
  8. paul

    I discovered I had RLS some 15 years ago, though we didn’t know the name of it. My girlfriend and I had the bad habit of eating ice cream while we watched TV. We would both experience the twitchy legs intermittently and finally figured out that it was the ice cream causing it. We both quit that but have since found out that eating anything with sugar or dairy in it too close to bed causes the problem. I now try not to eat/drink anything with sugar or dairy in it 4 hours before bed. Alcohol also can brings it on.
    Has any body experienced RSL like this?

    Reply
  9. marie helen bailey-adams

    I am an RLS sufferer. Every night and badly. These are the things I need to avoid – ANTI-DEPRESSANTS (I cannot take them at all, of any kind). Tea, coffee, alcohol. I have taken dopamine agonists and suffered rebound and augmentation each time. Gabapentin and Pragabalan cease to be effective after a time and they also cause rebound and augmentation. After a lapse I can begin to take them again until once again they become ineffective. Smoking should be avoided. However nicotine is a dopamine agonist and I have cigarettes on standby. For me, one cigarette, deeply inhaled, can stop RLS when it is not at the worst stage (kicking and tossing). It’s a remedy I hesitate to suggest, for obvious reasons (but I have been using it for years). This remedy does not work for full time smokers who have nicotine in their system, the extra dose doesn’t have any perceptible effect. I have tried patches and they do not do the trick..

    Reply
  10. liz

    Marie Helen,
    Sounds like you are really struggling. Have you every tried magnesium? It couldn’t hurt and it might help relax your muscles at night.

    Reply

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