Restless legs syndrome (RLS), or Willis-Ekbom Disease, affects between 5% and 10% of the Canadian population. In some cases, magnesium deficiency is thought to cause RLS, but whether or not deficiency is the root cause, magnesium can help treat restless legs syndrome through its calcium blocking abilities.
What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?
It is said that RLS is a “…neurological sensory disorder with symptoms that are produced from within the brain itself,” and that in serious cases could lead to depression and anxiety.
Restless Legs Syndrome can happen to anyone at any time, but studies suggest that women are more likely to have it. Old age can have an effect on the symptoms, making them more regular and longer-lasting.
Although in most cases, the causes of RLS are unknown (called primary RLS), particular gene variants are related to the disease. In cases where the onset of symptoms occur before the age of 40, it is genetic.
Iron deficiency in the brain also appears to play a role in some cases.
Additionally, evidence suggests that RLS could be related to an issue or dysfunction in the part of the brain that regulates controlled movement (basal ganglia), which uses the brain chemical dopamine. Involuntary movement, which is a category that Restless Leg Syndrome easily falls into, is often a sign of these pathways being obstructed.
In some cases, RLS can be accompanied or aggravated by the following underlying conditions:
- end-stage renal disease and hemodialysis
- iron deficiency
- certain medications that may aggravate RLS symptoms, such as antinausea drugs (e.g. prochlorperazine or metoclopramide), antipsychotic drugs (e.g., haloperidol or phenothiazine derivatives), antidepressants that increase serotonin (e.g., fluoxetine or sertraline), and some cold and allergy medications that contain older antihistamines (e.g., diphenhydramine)
- use of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine
- pregnancy, especially in the last trimester; in most cases, symptoms usually disappear within 4 weeks after delivery
- neuropathy (nerve damage)
- Some sleeping conditions can aggravate the symptoms of RLS, but are not necessarily related.
Symptoms and What They Mean for RLS Patients
RLS is characterized by discomfort in the legs and nearly irresistible urges to move them, which can become very disruptive to sleep. These unpleasant sensations can include aching, throbbing, pulling, itching, crawling, or creeping in the legs. These feelings can range from simply uncomfortable to very painful for patients.
Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome worsen when patients have been inactive for periods of time — when they are sleeping, for example. Hence the difficulty sleeping that many patients experience. While activity does temporarily mitigate the unpleasant RLS sensations, they do return shortly.
RLS symptoms usually occur when patients have been inactive for periods of time, as well as in the late afternoon or evening, and especially at night when patients are sitting or lying in bed.
Because symptoms increase in severity at night, it can be difficult to fall asleep or fall back asleep after being woken up.
These feelings can be alleviated by walking or moving the legs, but the sensations tend to return as soon as movement stops. Because such movement diminishes symptoms, patients often toss and turn in bed, or keep their legs in constant motion while sitting and standing, disrupting not only their own everyday lives but also that of those around them.
RLS symptoms can happen on only one side of the body, but usually occupy both sides, and occasionally switch sides.
Moderately severe cases usually include experiencing symptoms about twice a week with minimal although noticeable sleep disruption, and as a result, slightly impaired daytime function. In severe cases, symptoms will present themselves more than twice a week and heavily disrupt sleep.
As a result of RLS-impaired sleep, patients report difficulty concentrating, weakened memory, and failure to complete everyday tasks. Without treatment, moderate to severe RLS can cause a 20% decrease in work productivity.
Although patients do sometimes have periods of remission when symptoms will suddenly lessen and improve for some time, the majority of people will experience their symptoms worsening over time.
Those who have RLS in addition to another related medical condition often develop symptoms quite quickly, while those who don’t generally experience a very slow progression of symptoms, sometimes taking years to have symptoms on a regular basis.
How Magnesium Can Help
Luckily, RLS can usually be treated naturally or with medication, if necessary. That’s where magnesium comes in.
Because of its muscle relaxing properties, magnesium is highly regarded as an effective treatment for RLS. Especially in contrast to calcium in the body, magnesium is a valuable supplement to take while treating Restless Legs Syndrome. Without the balance of magnesium, larger amounts of calcium can make nerves overactive and increase muscle contraction, twitches, and spasms.
In addition to magnesium’s constructive collaboration with calcium, it is also a very successful method since magnesium deficiency can be a cause of RLS. Magnesium deficiency shows itself in many different ways, and restless legs seem to be one of them. By taking a magnesium supplement, applying topical cream, or simply chewing a gummy, you can take steps to alleviate your RLS symptoms.
Other Natural Treatments for RLS
Naturopathic options for those with less severe symptoms are also available.
Magnesium is one, but besides that important mineral, it is often recommended that patients try iron supplements, get plenty of exercise, and try taking baths and massages.
Since iron deficiency is a major cause of RLS, many patients will be tested for it upon reporting symptoms of RLS. If they test positive, the doctor will prescribe iron supplements, available over-the-counter. For those who have trouble absorbing iron in the gut, intravenous (IV) iron is also an option.
Some vitamin supplements can also be beneficial, depending on the patient’s individual needs. The choice to use vitamins as treatment is more case-specific — e.g, people on hemodialysis may benefit from vitamins C and E supplements, while patients whose RLS could be linked to vitamin D deficiency will benefit more from vitamin D supplements.
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is key to minimizing RLS symptoms. For that reason, doctors will often suggest that patients make an effort to foster healthy sleeping habits. This includes going to sleep and waking up at about the same times, keeping your room dark and avoiding distractions (TV or phone use) for a few hours before you go to sleep.
Prescription RLS Treatments
There are also prescription treatment options for RLS patients, but as we’ll discuss, these entail risks.
Pharmaceutical options include:
- Anti-seizure drugs
- Dopaminergic agents
All of these methods must be used only at the recommendation of a doctor and with caution. They can all have adverse effects if used improperly or for a prolonged amount of time.
Dopaminergic agents, in particular, can have unexpected side effects. With chronic use, they can begin to become less effective, and symptoms can start to present themselves more regularly until they are constantly present.
Interestingly, another potential effect of dopamine that some patients experience is to develop impulsive or obsessive behaviours — like obsessive gambling or shopping.
Thankfully, both these effects can be reversed by stopping all dopamine-related medications entirely.
Opioids such as codeine, hydrocodone, and methadone are sometimes used to treat patients with more serious RLS symptoms, who do not respond to other forms of treatment.
Benzodiazepines like clonazepam and lorazepam are prescribed to help patients get more restful sleep, but are not usually the first choice based on their side effects. Even if only taken in the evenings, these medications can result in daytime fatigue and reduced energy and concentration ability.
Overall, RLS is a very treatable disease and natural options can be the first line of defence. The treatment options are broad, meaning there is a treatment for anyone experiencing the signature leg discomfort and involuntary muscle movement.
For mild to moderate cases, natural treatments offer numerous benefits and relief from symptoms for many of those experiencing RLS. Their potential side effects are much less severe than those of the pharmaceutical treatments and have been said by many to work quickly and effectively.
Magnesium is an easy way to enjoy reduced, if not eliminated, symptoms. If you’re still having doubts about trying this supplement to treat RLS, let these testimonies from happy users convince you!
“ From completely curing my RLS that I suffered with for over 6 years, to helping me ‘calm’ before bed when I work nights, there are so many benefits to Natural Calm! You won’t know them until you try it. Dedicated user for over 3 years now. TY!”
– Brenda H.
“ I just started using this product 2 nights ago after struggling with Restless Legs – and little sleep as a result – for the past month and a half. It kicked in the first night and I couldn’t be happier ! 1tspn did the trick ”
“ Helps with my restless leg syndrome and sleep. Thanks! ”
“I’m 61 years old and my wife Joyce is 59. We have been on a strict vitamin regime for over 40 years and are in good health. However, my wife Joyce has never been able to rid herself of the “restless leg” syndrome that she has suffered most of her life; that is until now. Natural Calm has apparently allowed Joyce to sleep without the leg problem and so far, she has been free of it for almost a month now. I prepare a Natural Calm tea for her as well as myself one half hour before going to bed and it seems to work well. I also get a better sleep now. I will be getting the rest of my family to try it.”
– Roger and Joyce Lambert
“Calm is a GREAT product! Helps with a number of ailments – restless leg, constipation – I’d give it *****”
– Jane C.