Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is characterized by an irresistible urge to move the legs. It tends to occur at precisely the wrong times, like when you’re trying to sleep. With RLS, the only way to get even partial relief is to move the legs. People who have experienced RLS have used words like “tingling”, “twitching” and “painful” to describe the sensations.
RLS is not a disease itself, but rather a collection of symptoms (which is why it’s called a “syndrome” rather than a disease). While its cause is unknown, there are several conditions that appear to be associated with it. These associations may one day shed light on a cause:
- Iron deficiency
- Low dopamine levels
- Lesions on the spinal cord or peripheral nerves
- Kidney disease, particularly end-stage kidney disease
- Medications, such as tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, lithium, and caffeine (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute 2000).
What is particularly interesting is the relationship between dopamine and iron, and how deficiencies in both are present in people with RLS. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter. A study authored by R.P. Allen et al in 2001 showed that patients with RLS showed abnormally low levels of both iron and dopamine in their brains. The reason both iron and dopamine are factors is that the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase, which is involved in dopamine synthesis, requires iron for proper function. In the RLS patients studied, the iron deficiencies were most obvious in parts of the brain that help control body movement.
Pharmaceutical treatments are available for RLS sufferers, and include anti-convulsive and sleep medications. Sufferers may also get relief from taking nutritional supplements, including:
- Iron (along with Vitamin C)
- Folic Acid (along with methylcobalamin Vitamin B-12)
- Magnesium (taken at bedtime)
- Vitamin E