Restless Legs Syndrome

Stopping the twitching and jerking: A Natural Treatment to Restless Leg Syndrome

A common but highly problematic condition that patients bring to my office is Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). Aptly named, this conditions is characterized by uncomfortable leg sensations such as twitching or jolting, creeping or crawling, tingling and/or cramping with an intense urge to move the legs. Generally the symptoms worsen in the afternoon and evening, especially at bedtime and tend to occur in a single burst, perhaps once every 30-60 seconds. The condition can seriously interfere with sleep and relaxation. It tends to be aggravated by prolonged periods of inactivity (e.g. plane travel or desk work) and is provoked during periods of relaxation. Movement, stretching and massage tends to relieve the symptoms but only temporarily.

Conventional medicine initially recommends basic testing including blood tests for glucose, iron, magnesium and thyroid hormones, largely because imbalances in these factors can lead to neurologic or muscular dysregulation. Magnesium, for example, is essential for proper functioning of both the nerves and muscles. Discovering that your levels are low might lead to a very neat, simple solution to the problem: Take the correct form of magnesium. Further, iron deficits have been documented in the vast majority of patients with RLS. Again, such a finding would lead to an easy resolution. B6, Sam-e, folic acid and specific forms of B12 can be extremely helpful at treating RLS provided appropriate testing supports their use.

RLS may also develop due to an imbalance in the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affect many functions in the body. Symptoms of dopamine deficiency are varied but include constipation, digestive difficulties, low libido, excessive need for sleep, movement disorders, tremors, difficulty with muscle control, decreased physical strength, increased need for carbohydrates, forgetfulness, aggression, depression, mood swings, inability to concentrate and many other affectations.

Those with RLS likely do not have most of these symptoms. However, it has been conclusively established that those with RLS suffer from a dopamine deficiency. In fact, many of the conventional drugs used to treat RLS are identical to the medications used to treat Parkinson's disease, a condition in which dopamine stores are depleted in a certain area of the brain. Examples include Mirapex, Requip, Neurontin and even Sinemet, the quintessential medication for Parkinson's Disease. It is here that my philosophical approach to treatment of RLS begins to diverge greatly from mainstream medicine. Although many of these medications are designed to increase dopamine, they fail to address the fact that unregulated increases in dopamine will eventually lead to a serious depletion of serotonin, an important mood regulator. It will also affect the production of several other nutrients including glutathione, a critical cellular detoxifier and tryptophan, an amino acid necessary for serotonin production. Use of Sinemet will deplete the body of B6, one of the important of the B vitamins. A brief examination of the side effect profile of these medication will quickly reveal that long term use of such drugs can seriously compromise the health of the patient.

I have found that RLS can be effectively treated long term with a specific and highly individualized blend of amino acids that balances dopamine, serotonin and glutathione. This formulation includes the herb Macuna pruriens, 5-HTP, cysteine and B6. This combination, once the specific balance between the nutrients is achieved, addresses the imbalances of all the neurotransmitter pathways that tend to be depleted in patients with RLS without leading to long term problems. This approach can be expensive, but in my view much preferable to taking prescription drugs. Those interested in reading more on this approach should look into the research conducted by Marty Hinz, MD.

RLS does not need to be debilitating. I recommend consulting a knowledgeable alternative practitioner, get responsible testing, support yourself with the necessary nutrients and, if these initial treatments do not work, consider appropriate amino acid supplementation.