Restless leg syndrome causes a temporary tingling sensation that is accompanied by an urge to move legs. It is usually more intense in the evening (especially in bed) and may cause the legs to twitch. It usually involves both sides. Less commonly, the unpleasant sensation affects the arms. Some individuals experience symptoms occasionally, while others have them every day. It often disrupts sleep. Moving eases the unpleasant feeling temporarily.
- Deficiency of dopamine is regarded as the most frequent cause of RLS. There is a clear link between RLS and low levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine deficiency is most often caused by various addictions (including sexual, caffeine, sugar, alcohol, etc.) as all addictions greatly increase the demand for dopamine leading to its deficiency. Dopamine is one of the feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters (along with serotonin). It is a very important brain chemical necessary for coordinating fluent body movements, controlling mood, motivation, learning, sleep, and ability to focus.
Addictions (to sex, caffeine, alcohol, smoking, drugs, chocolate, sugar, games, etc.) lead to dopamine deficiency because whenever we experience a pleasure (associated with addiction) our dopamine-producing cells flood our brain with dopamine so that we could experience a pleasure. Certain addictions cause up to 10 times more dopamine release! Therefore, repeating the same addictive behaviours and forcing brain cells to produce so much dopamine every day makes them exhausted and unable to make enough of this hormone in-between moments of pleasure.
In this way, addictions lead to the severe dopamine deficiency symptoms, including RLS. Studies confirmed that brains of addicts release much less dopamine and have fewer dopamine receptors. Dopamine levels naturally fall towards the end of the day, which helps explain why the symptoms of RLS are often worse in the evening, especially when we go to bed.
- Richard P. Allen, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, found abnormally high levels of glutamate in the brains of people with RLS. The more glutamate was found in the brains, the worse their sleep problems were. It is interesting that even though RLS patients sleep less than 5 hours per night, they rarely report problems with excessive daytime sleepiness. Some experts suggest that this fact could be caused by increased levels of glutamate known as a brain excitotoxin which triggers a state of arousal (during the day and at night).
OTHER RISK FACTORS
- RLS symptoms are more frequent and more severe in people with vitamin D deficiency.
- Nerve damage caused by high blood glucose levels, medication (such as statins), deficiency of vitamin B12, and other factors may contribute to the development of RLS. If nerve cells become damaged, the amount of dopamine in the brain is reduced, which causes muscle spasms and involuntary movements leading to RLS.
- Folate and B12 deficiency have been linked to RLS, which may explain why restless legs are so common in pregnant women (due to a higher demand for these vitamins).
- Deficiency of serotonin caused by lack of exercise, insufficient exposures to sunlight, deficiency of the amino acid tryptophan (out of which serotonin is made), B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
- For some people with RLS, caffeine can be a trigger.
- Lack of physical activity (sedentary lifestyle), poor blood circulation, dehydration (drinking insufficient amount of water), stress, irritability, anxiety, and depression are also associated with the development of RLS.
Pramipexole and Ropinirole (dopamine boosters, used also to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease) are usually prescribed for RLS in the UK.
Levodopa (works by being converted to dopamine in the brain) has been used to treat RLS. Unfortunately, although it helps to eliminate the symptoms, over 80 % of patients develop the spread of the condition to the upper limbs or the reappearance of symptoms in the morning.
BOOST DOPAMINE LEVELSThe most important element of improving the ability to regulate dopamine and help body to maintain its healthy levels is by giving up on all addictions (including sexual, stimulants, chocolate and sugar).
- L-Tyrosine is the most important supplement to boost dopamine: 2000mg a day on an empty stomach.
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). A study published in the September 2009 issue of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, has shown that ashwagandha root extract was able to increase dopamine levels. At the same time, it improved motor function in test animals who had their dopamine levels reduced.
- Resveratrol may help increase dopamine levels.
- Frequent sunlight exposures and exercising for 60 minutes every day help increase the production of dopamine.
- Consume more of the following to boost dopamine: Almonds, bananas, sunflower seeds, beets, green leafy vegetables, apples, strawberries, pulses, sesame and pumpkin seeds, avocados, watermelon, and oatmeal.
- Antioxidants (Alpha-lipoic acid, vitamin C, E, etc.) are important as they prevent dopamine oxidation.
- Increasing Omega-3 intake can help elevate dopamine levels. Focus on consuming chlorella, fresh ground flax seed, soaked chia seeds, and good quality Omega-3 oil high in EPA and DHA. Unfortunately, regular consumption of fish and seafood as sources of omega-3 is not a good idea as they are usually contaminated with mercury, lead and other toxins.
- Boost brain serotonin levels by regular daily outdoor exercises and increasing consumption of foods high in tryptophan, especially organic non-GMO Tofu, which is by far the highest source of this amino acid. Make sure you have some complex carbohydrates every day in the form of fresh and dried fruits, bananas, etc. as they increase ability of tryptophan to pass blood/brain barrier to produce serotonin.
- Avoid caffeine as for some people with RLS, caffeine is a trigger.
- Avoid or significantly reduce sugar, white flour products, dairy, gluten, and alcohol, as they are linked to RLS.
- If RLS strikes when you’re falling sleep, take a brief walk (or exercise your legs). Sometimes, just getting out of bed quickly can make symptoms disappear.
- Go to sleep not later than 10pm and sleep at least 7 hours.
BENEFICIAL SUPPLEMENTS AND HERBAL REMEDIES
- Reduce levels of glutamate in your brain by avoiding monosodium glutamate (MSG) and hydrolysed protein. At the same time, take supplemental magnesium, zinc and selenium as they have been discovered to help block glutamates from overloading glutamate receptors in the brain.
- Ginkgo biloba has been known to improve blood circulation in legs.
- Take 2000 mcg of active vitamin B12 supplement (in the form of sublingual methylcobalamin) a day only after breakfast. Methylcobalamin (especially when combined with alpha lipoic acid) will help regenerate nerves.
- Take 400mg of Magnesium citrate or bisglycinate every day before bed as it supports muscle function, sleep, nervous system function and bone health. Some individuals with RLS claim that supplemental magnesium helped them to reduce or even eliminate signs of RLS.
- Take 3,000 to 5,000 IU of Vitamin D3 after breakfast (requires magnesium for its activation). Studies show that RLS symptoms are more frequent and more severe in people with vitamin D deficiency.
- Increase serotonin levels by taking 5-HTP (most bioavailable form of tryptophan), vitamin B6, B1, B3 (Niacin), folic acid, magnesium, and zinc as all of them are required to produce this precious happy hormone.
- Balance blood sugar levels by avoiding, sugar, white flour products, fruit juices, and other refined foods. Consume only unprocessed and unrefined plant foods, fresh vegetables, pulses, 100 percent whole grains (but not wheat products).
- Alternative hot and very cold water applications such as showers are very effective in improving blood circulation and reducing RLS. Heat works much better when used alternatively with cold applications such as ice pack, cold compress or cold shower.
- Applying ice pack or very cold compress on the affected area for few minutes could be helpful.
- Bathing in a magnesium chloride or magnesium-rich Dead Sea salt solution works well.
- Spray legs with magnesium chloride oil before bed and massage the oil into both legs.
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