Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
There are at least two patterns common in Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). In the first, pain and/or numbness occur in the lower limbs, sometimes also in the upper limbs, which is relieved by movement or local massage. The pain may range from mild discomfort and “jumpiness” upon going to bed, to more severe stabbing pain, or perhaps crawling sensations. It should be distinguished from nocturnal leg cramps, in which one is awakened from sleep with calf pain not relieved by massage, movement or pain medications.
The second type of RLS involves no pain or discomfort, only movement. It occurs at night and may not disturb sleep (one may not be aware of the movement) although it often occurs in those suffering from insomnia. It is most commonly found in people in their fifties.
RLS has been a frequent complaint of pregnant women and of individuals on dialysis due to kidney failure. However, it is possible for anyone to experience these symptoms.
The cause or causes of RLS remain unknown, but it has been associated with certain nutritional deficiencies. Folic acid supplementation has brought relief in cases of the first type. Other symptoms that can be seen in folic acid deficiency are depression, irritability and forgetfulness. Once an individual has developed a deficiency, the ability to absorb the nutrient may be diminished, so that additional measures may be required to restore normal functioning. Ultimately, if there is no problem with absorption, a diet with foods rich in folic acid, such as green leafy vegetables, wheat germ and bran, yeast, liver and egg yolk, may be adequate following a period of supplementation and alleviation of symptoms.
RLS has also been found in cases of iron deficiency anemia, and in those cases iron supplementation has alleviated the symptoms. Standard blood work will not always indicate this level of deficiency of iron (and the same may be said of folic acid). Iron supplementation should be accompanied by vitamin C for increased absorption, and it should not be tried unless it is indicated. Foods high in iron include liver, beans, molasses and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin E has also been used effectively to treat RLS. It protects red blood cells from damage, averting a mild or local anemia. It has also been useful in the treatment of nocturnal leg cramps, although there may be other nutritional factors involved in the latter. Foods rich in Vitamin E include wheat germ, green plants, egg yolk, vegetable oils, nuts and liver.
Some sufferers of RLS have found relief by eliminating xanthines from their diets. These include caffeine and similar stimulants found in coffee, tea, soda pop and chocolate.