Researchers were initially baffled by patients with restless leg syndrome. Some thought that the disorder could be linked to the nervous system or even caused by a muscular disorder. Restless leg syndrome causes feelings of throbbing, pulling, creeping, unpleasant sensations in the legs that cause an uncontrollable urge to move them. Symptoms primarily occur during the night, and most patients report that moving their legs relieves these symptoms. Doctors were most confused as to why relaxation seems to activate restless leg symptoms. Patients often become frustrated, as sleep cycles are significantly disturbed, affecting quality of life throughout the day.
It’s estimated that 10% of the population suffers from restless leg syndrome, and in most of these cases – the causes remains unknown. Past studies have linked restless leg syndrome to genetic factors, the inability to process a neurotransmitter called dopamine, medications, pregnancy, iron deficiency, and specific chronic diseases.
However, more recent studies seem to focus more on the role of inflammation in restless leg syndrome. There seems to be a pattern, as restless leg syndrome is more common in those with conditions like chronic fatigue, diabetes, and peripheral neuropathy. All of these conditions are related to immune dysfunction caused by inflammation. For this reason, researchers theorized that inflammation may be the trigger in restless leg syndrome.
Once statistical data was gathered, researchers found that there are 38 diseases considered highly related to restless leg syndrome. 95% of these diseases have an inflammatory basis. This suggests that inflammation plays a much larger role in the onset of restless leg syndrome than previously known.
It’s also possible that inflammation can affect other factors that are linked to restless leg syndrome by previous studies. For example, inflammation is known to trigger iron deficiency – another suspected factor in the onset of this condition. Another focus in restless leg syndrome studies is the microflora in the gut. The gut and its microflora are the nerve center of the immune system, and directly control immune regulation. Imbalanced bacteria levels in the gut may trigger inflammation that can lead to restless leg syndrome.
Based on cumulative research and several trigger theories for restless leg syndrome, nutrition should be incorporated in every RLS patient’s regimen. For example, ensuring that iron deficiency is not present is an important preventative strategy. Eating a diet rich in foods known to combat excessive inflammation is also a good idea. Taking natural, anti-inflammatory supplements (not NSAID’s) will help to calm existing inflammation as the beneficial effects of nutrition therapy begin to take effect.
Anti-inflammatory foods include fruits and vegetables that are rich in color. Cherries, peppers, walnuts, fatty fish, berries, beets, tomatoes and dark leafy greens all contain high levels of antioxidants and essential nutrients for immune regulation. Because there is evidence to support the role of inflammation in RLS, controlling systemic inflammation should be of priority as researchers continue to understand this baffling condition. Furthermore, controlling inflammation through the use of natural supplements and nutritional therapy should take precedent over invasive strategies like sedatives or prescription medications that can be habit-forming.