Most general clinicians say that restless leg syndrome, or RLS—also called Willis-Ekbom Disease–has no direct cause. Common side effects include itching, burning or crawling sensations in the legs that seem to only be relieving by stimulating them with movement. These side effects increase at night, because the symptoms tend to worsen when the legs are at rest, lying down. This can make RLS difficult to diagnose in the daytime. But, despite the confusion in medical research on the topic, other studies show a direct link between RLS and one deficiency: magnesium.
Magnesium performs many functions in the body, but the link can be drawn to two specific functions—relaxing muscles by diminishing nerve signals and neutralizing active chemicals that keep us awake, helping us fall asleep. A lack of magnesium diminishes both sleep and muscle-rest functions and could make our nerves more sensitive in the nighttime hours. Many adults with RLS also sustain health problems due to insomnia.
Other specialists draw a link between both a deficiency in magnesium and, comparatively, an overabundance of calcium. When calcium fortifies the bones, it helps contract the bone muscle-tissue. Some specialists believe that calcium contractions, minus counteracting magnesium for balance, can cause RLS. This explains why movement, above all other remedies, alleviates symptoms for a short period of time. Movement re-awakens the muscles and contracts them in other ways, canceling the need for magnesium so long as the movement continues.
Magnesium, absorbed through foods and natural ointments, can alleviate and significantly diminish—if not eliminate in some cases—RLS symptoms. Some other alternative remedies can assist in reducing nighttime symptoms. Let’s take a look at some magnesium-rich alternative remedies, and other remedies, for RLS:
Ointments and Rubs
Some studies show that magnesium can be best absorbed in the body through the skin. While magnesium-rich foods exist, many herbs can be extracted of their nutrients and applied to the skin. Practiced, daily or as needed, evidence shows that symptoms can be reduced in a few weeks. Some users even report relief in as little as 7-10 days.
Herbs that can be rubbed into the skin, releasing their oils, or brewed and strained, include:
- Basil—556 mg Magnesium
- Coriander—498 mg
- Spearmint—422 mg
- Dill—357 mg
- Thyme—317 mg
- Sage—272 mg
- Tarragon—235 mg
- Peppermint—229 mg
While all of these herbs can be massaged into the skin, they can also be boiled and strained, creating herb-infused water to wash the legs. Filling tea bags with the herbs and brewing the tea can both create a wash and an additional compress.
Even though the skin can absorb magnesium, adults can digest the mineral in magnesium-rich foods. These include:
- Oily fish—Tuna, mackerel, and Pollock have the highest concentrations of magnesium. All fish, however, possess at least a little magnesium.
- Dark greens—Spinach tops the list, but common salad bases like kale also come packed with magnesium.
- Grains—Brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, barley, oats and other grains contain about as much magnesium as greens.
- Whole wheat—Whole wheat breads and pastas are good sources of magnesium and can be easily incorporated into many diets.
- Bananas—Also loaded with potassium, which helps regulate sugars and fight insomnia, one serving of bananas carry 7% of daily-suggested magnesium amounts.
- Avocados—Avocados have lots of nutrients and healthy fats. They possess as much magnesium as the average banana serving.
- Nuts—The top of the list of magnesium-high nuts are Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews and pine nuts.
- Seeds—Sesame and sunflower seeds are high magnesium and easily added to most dishes.
Following a well-rounded diet would consequentially increase magnesium intake.
Magnesium may win the doctors’ vote, but RLS has been linked to other vitamin deficiencies. Patients are often given supplements for RLS, including supplementary vitamins C, D and E. While results are mixed, consuming these vitamins naturally over time may reduce RLS symptoms.
Many of the magnesium rich foods will already contain vitamin E, while only some contain vitamins C and D. Listed below are some foods that contain vitamin C an D that may help, if taken over a span of time, reduce symptoms of RLS.
Foods rich in vitamin C include:
- Citrus—Orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime
- Other Fruits—Kiwi, papaya, mango, tomatoes
- Leaf Vegetables—Spinach, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage
- Berries—Strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, blueberries
- Sweet Potatoes
Vitamin-D nourished foods include:
- Dairy—Heavy cream, butter and cheese, but mind the fat contents
- Egg (yolks)
Supplementing increased magnesium with vitamins can build a resistance to the symptoms of RLS. When seeking Vitamin D foods, guard against the amount of calcium you intake. Remember, too much calcium and too little magnesium can exacerbate RLS symptoms.
Make sure that, when treating RLS, you cancel out any other causes, like diet imbalances, habits like smoking, medications, or other health conditions. Side effects of medications may cause RLS. In addition, organs not working at their optimum health and failing to produce specific chemicals could trigger RLS.
While using these alternative remedies to treat RLS, begin an exercise regimen to help stimulate the legs during the day and manually relax the muscles at night. Exercise will reduce the chances of RLS symptoms increasing at night, or keeping you awake at night. Warming the muscles will also help the body absorb nutrients like magnesium and fat-soluble vitamins much more efficiently.
Afflicted nerves, sore muscles, and other RLS symptoms can plague millions of adults and lower quality of life over time. Fortunately, studies widely support alternative remedies for RLS, given the strong link between RLS and a possible magnesium deficiency. Lowering stress levels, exercising, and increasing magnesium uptake, help reduce symptoms for hundreds and restore living balance. Living in pain is unimaginably difficult, but RLS need not keep you from restoring an active life and rising above the condition.
Do you experience RLS and chronic nerve pain? If so, which remedies do you use to seek relief?