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Restless Legs Syndrome Causes and Treatments

Published on March 14, 2015

The specific causes of restless legs syndrome (RLS) are not known. That is what most doctors say and it is certainly what WebMD says. “Disease in the blood vessels of the legs or in the nerves in the legs that control leg movement and sensation was once thought to cause RLS, but both of these suggestions have been rejected.” Restless leg syndrome affects millions of people. If you peruse the internet, you will quickly find that the disorder is not understood very well at all.

Though WebMD tells us what it isn’t we read that restless leg syndrome is one of the most common nerve syndromes. The tingling, prickling and numbness in the legs occur mainly in the evening or at night when the body is resting and can only be eased by moving or walking around. People with the condition suffer sleeping disorders and thus tiredness and general fatigue. In extreme cases it can lead to depression. The chances of developing restless leg syndrome increase with age. Around one in 10 people over the age of 65 is a sufferer.

However, it can also strike children. The condition was first described in 1945 by Swedish nerve specialist Karl-Axel Ekbom. It is thought to be linked to an imbalance of the brain’s ‘reward’ chemical messenger dopamine. Women are more likely to be affected than men with many developing restless legs in the last few weeks of pregnancy. In children, the condition can be wrongly diagnosed as ‘growing pains’. The symptoms usually worsen as people get older.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a chronic, disruptive disorder where one feels an urge to move their legs to stop an unpleasant sensation such as pain, aching, itching or tickling in the muscles while lying down or trying to sleep. Many cases of RLS can be mild but in more severe cases the symptoms can often be intolerable.

Having a sleepless night now and then can be annoying. However, when you have restless legs syndrome (RLS), going without sleep night after night can make life miserable. You may be so tired that you just feel like crying.

Getting to the Heart of RLS

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restless leg syndrome symptoms

People with RLS can realize relief quite quickly with the use of Transdermal Magnesium Therapy, (also available in hardcopy through either magnesium oil or magnesium gel that is applied directly to the legs. RLS can actually be explained quite simply enough and effective treatment prescribed. The condition is a symptom of severe magnesium deficiency. A quick look at the science of magnesium deficiency and the effect such deficiency has on muscles, nerves and the blood vessels easily sustains this medical view. For pregnant women with RLS, safer pregnancy and easier birth are realized with magnesium baths, which are highly recommended.

So many people suffer from this syndrome because they are seriously depleted in magnesium. Is that too hard for doctors to understand? Are they so captured by the pharmaceutical paradigm that they cannot see the easy answer?

There is nothing rare at all about magnesium deficiencies. According to government data, 68% of Americans do not consume the recommended intake of magnesium and 19% of Americans do not consume even half of the recommended intake. Yet sites like Healthline misinforms the public saying, “It’s rare to have a true magnesium deficiency, but certain conditions such as gastrointestinal disease, diabetes, and pancreatitis can upset the body’s magnesium balance.”

Most of the population has magnesium deficiency and the problem has only been getting worse as nutritional content in foods continue to drop and. In addition, all white foods, white rice, white bread, white sugar, white salt and white spaghetti have all the magnesium taken out.

Dr. Carolyn Dean says, “The best treatment is with any form of magnesium because magnesium relaxes muscles and nerves. Furthermore, calcium causes contraction in skeletal muscle fibers, and magnesium causes relaxation. When there is too much calcium and insufficient magnesium inside a cell, you can get sustained muscle contraction: twitches, spasms, and even convulsions.

"I have had restless legs every night for the past 45 years. The severity has gradually increased over the years and has led to several visits to the doctor. I have been on 4 different medications, none of which helped. On a whim, I bought a bottle of magnesium spray oil from the chemist and have been using this twice a day on knees and calves. I have also started taking a magnesium supplement. My RLS symptoms have almost completely disappeared. I still feel twinges in the evenings but they do not last more than a few minutes. I apply the oil as needed. It stings a bit and dries the skin but the disappearance of this wretched condition more than makes up for any temporary discomfort."

According to Dean, “A hundred years ago we enjoyed a diet high in magnesium with a daily intake of 500 mg. Today we are lucky to get 200 mg. However, calcium in the diet has never been higher. This high-calcium, low-magnesium diet, when coupled with calcium supplementation, can give a calcium to magnesium imbalance of 10:1 or even higher — which constitutes a walking time bomb of impaired bone health and heart disease.”

Restless Leg Syndrome and Inflammation

Restless leg syndrome is obviously an inflammation but we never will read this fact from the mainstream medical media and it ties in perfectly with the observation that RLS is a magnesium deficiency disorder. Magnesium puts the chill on inflammation and that is why it is the perfect RLS medicine as it is for all disease (inflammations) of the nerves, muscles and blood vessels. Magnesium deficiencies feed the fires of inflammation and pain in the legs and that is why applying magnesium directly to the legs at night and during the day works so well to cool the restlessness. Magnesium deficiency in general also leads to sleep disorders to it works not only on the legs but the entire nervous system helping to relax us and reset our nervous system to a less anxious and depressed tone.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Restless Leg Syndrome

Doctors cannot specifically diagnose restless Leg Syndrome because they are not trained to look at or diagnosis anything on the fundamental level of cause. On some sites, you will read that there is no cure for Restless Leg Syndrome; however, once diagnosed, your doctor will recommend a treatment plan to decrease symptoms, few of which will help.

Restless leg syndrome symptoms and anxiety are related to each other and result in severe sleep disorders. Magnesium deficiency often results in symptoms of anxiety, restless leg syndrome, sleep disorders, nausea, fatigue and depression.  Even a mild deficiency of magnesium can cause increased sensitivity to noise, nervousness, irritability, mental depression, confusion, twitching, trembling, apprehension, and insomnia.

Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a major role in the functioning of the musculoskeletal system. Magnesium allows the muscles to relax providing a calming effect that allows for deeper relaxation and better sleep.

The rationale for using FIR (Far Infrared) is that the heating gently increases blood flow by expanding capillary blood flow, increasing oxygenation and regeneration of the blood and detoxifying the blood to improve overall health. Use an infrared Biomat to relieve pain, swelling and inflammation in the knees and legs. It works particularly well for restless legs and weak knee conditions, and can be used for varicose veins.

The following medications are the most widely prescribed to treat RLS, none of which should be given because they are toxic, have numerous side effects and in general will further drive down magnesium levels.

Dopamine agonists

Dopaminergic agents




Alpha2 agonists

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Dr. Mark Sircus AC., OMD, DM (P)

Director International Medical Veritas Association
Doctor of Oriental and Pastoral Medicine

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  • Franklin L. Wheeler

    I have found a very direct correlation between my intake of calcium and dairy products and my RLS. Caffeine also helps aggravate it but it is not as direct. I first realized that I had a pattern of experiencing RLS whenever I had been bothered by reflux, then I would get up, take a calcium based antacid, go back to bed, only to be awakened later by RLS. After so many nights of this routine, I quit using the calcium based antacid and sure enough, no more RLS!! I mentioned this to a pathologist friend of mine and he said it made perfect sense as calcium is what helps the muscles fire. So now I have noticed the direct correlation if I eat something like cheese and crackers before bed time or perhaps a dairy rich meal, lasagna, or a big bowl of cereal. I’ve suggested this to others with RLS , but so often, true to human nature, they often say, well, that can’t be my problem because I love cheese, or I love milk. Or I couldn’t make it without my antacid! But, there is life without nighttime snacks of dairy and there are other ways to alleviate reflux. And to be without RLS—–Wonderful!!! In the middle of the night, when I remember that I’ve eaten cheese and that’s why I have the RLS, I drink a couple of cups of water, and when my kidneys flush and clean out my blood, then the RLS goes away for a great night’s sleep. I can still eat a bowl of cereal earlier in the day with no problem, but later in the day, especially in the evening is a definite cause and effect for the RLS. I can see how, if magnesium counteracts the calcium effects, then it could be a very helpful nutrient, but I always like to eliminate the cause of the problem first, whenever possible. Hope this helps.

  • Dana Hayne

    I’ve had RLS for over 30 yrs. Definitely, worse during pregnancy. I have supplemented with magnesium -in truth, sporadically. It’s taken me a long time to single out certain food additive connections. However, I’ve noticed that eating anything with gutamate TOTALLY sets off the nerves in my arms, as well as my legs. I had no idea that glutamates occurred in so many foods:balsamic vinegar, almost all protein powders. Of course, I will avoid these foods now. But will added magnesium help decrease the hyper-sensitivity to these excito-toxins?

  • John

    I have had RLS for many years in spite of supplementing with magnesium, I finally got relief when I went on the Paleo diet. I now understand why because wheat products contain Phytates that tie up minerals like Zinc, Iron and Magnesium in the small intestine causing deficiencies, now I get plenty of minerals being absorbed from my food but I also still supplement with magnesium. Using Celtic sea salt or Himalayan Pink salt also provides some minerals.

    • Barbara Anne Jones

      My experience too John. The Paleo principal and the Eat Right for Your Type, have been interesting and amazing for me.
      Actually, probably, also mainly because that was the way I was brought up, so I returned to it, and it worked, for the most part.

  • Mark Sircus

    It is the experience of some people that their restless legs is often rooted in a iron deficiency (ferritin levels below 100) and Vit-B-deficiency (too high homocystein levels and mineral deficiency combined with too high calcium intracellular. The calcium cascade (deriving from excess or relative calcium excess) leads to calcium seeking and needing more magnesium to try to keep the body´s calcium/magnesium-Balance.
    That leads to a relative magnesium deficiency in proportion to calcium with all the low magnesium symproms (eg. Restless legs)

    • Guest

      RLS is also connected to high ammonia levels, high blood sugar (which magnesium does nothing for), folate deficiency, elevated quinolinic acid, on and on and on. Just above you said it’s not related to blood vessel issue, but then admit down in the comments that it can be related to elevated homocysteine, which uh, is a blood vessel issue. Sheesh.

      • Melinda Owens

        Has anybody thought that the increase in calcium (and low magnesium from our food) is related to “dairy”…lactose… Theryby causing a lactose intolerance (related to both SIBO and lack of magnesium) which will trigger muscle aches and pains? How about the link between certain bad bacteria in our gut that is also commonly found on our skin that either gets into our gut or is caused by lack of magnesium in diet combined with severe lack of absortion of calcium Aka ” lactose” that then causes our muscless and other joint aches and pains. I just ordered ph balance test strip kit to find out if its due to being to alkaline or acidic. Im almist 50 yr old female who has suffered with RLS since childhood. I even have adult acne that was being treated with topical antibiotics. Worked great for my skin until the refill tp get more cost $500 with insurance. I realized then that the antibiotics i was on wore off in less than a month and all it really did was mask one symptom. The other symptoms were there always too, i just didn’t put the pices together until recently. Im excited at the chance to experiment on myself in hopes to rid myself if all these symptoms by eliminating the cause. Changing my diet (i already eat organic, non-gmo 80% of the time) to foods that i need is not not only the easiest and cheapest route, it might actually work. In the information age, we won’t have much use for doctors or big med companies to tell us “what we need pwrscribed”. Animals in the wild get everything they need from their food (is also there medicine). We are humans who shouldn’t need to take these suppliments if we ate better. If we all felt better, maybe we will do better.

        • Guest

          I don’t think it’s a calcium/magnesium issue in general (although perhaps too much dairy is eaten in relation to other foods), but more the latter — the overuse of antibiotics (both in animals and humans) that eventually disrupts the gut flora.

          Overall though, RLS is tied to both iron and folate deficiencies. Think about how almost no one takes iron any more, or eats iron rich foods. Almost no one takes iron as a supplement, and many multivitamins and multiminerals have both iron and copper removed.

    • Christine

      Rubbing magnesium oil, or combined oil and Epsom salts, soaking in Epsom salts, etc does not relieve my RLS in the last 20 years. Hair analysis showed extreme high calcium and magnesium. No potassium. Low protein and low iron. Iron supplements help me but they trigger migrains after a few days. Magnesium supplements of any type trigger extreme diarreah. The few times I’ve been on antibiotics RLS disappears. I have purchased 2 Dr Sircus books and trying to understand Total alkalinity, mine is extremely high, and PH, mine is low. When I supplemented with hydroclauric acid RLS disappeared for 2 days but is back.

      • Christine

        I have had RLS since 1986. One American study mentions an enzyme that robs protein and minerals while resting. I thought when I read Mark in your book about the robbing of minerals that that occurs with PH imbalance that this is likely the cause.

      • Fatriff

        Maybe you have SIBO & the antibiotics temporarily reduced the amount of bad bacterial growth.. It should be mentioned that Antibiotic use is usually the cause of SIBO in the 1st place.

        • Christine McJannett

          Is SIBO linked to RLS?

          • Fatriff

            I had SIBO and had restless leg which started at the same time my SIBO got out of control.. While I hadn’t read anything about it at the time I did read that SIBO prevents the absorption of many nutrients which in itself could lead to RLS.. That was what I determined to be the cause of mine and once I got it under control and my bowel was functioning well the RLS stopped completely. If you google the 1st several words of the below quoted text you will find the site I got it from.

            “According to one intriguing new study in Sleep Medicine, restless legs syndrome may be another thing connected to gut bacteria gone haywire.

            The study came about because its investigators, Weinstock and Walters, had previously noticed that many people with celiac disease and Crohn’s disease happened to have a diagnosis of restless legs syndrome.

            They wondered: Does the reverse relationship hold between gastrointestinal problems and restless legs? That is, if we take a group of people with known RLS, would we find that they have more gastrointestinal problems than people with normal leg movement?

            The gastrointestinal problems they were interested in studying were irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

            Importantly, IBS is a “functional syndrome”. That means doctors diagnose it based on reported symptoms rather than a specific test that confirms or disconfirms it. So to be fair, there’s no guarantee that people with IBS have anything wrong with their gut bacteria. But in recent years IBS has been linked to SIBO, a condition that is definitely associated with too many bacteria hanging out in a neighborhood where they don’t belong: the small intestine.

            SIBO itself is diagnosed via an indirect method called the “lactulose breath test”. The attraction of this method is that it involves nothing more invasive than drinking a cup of sugar solution and blowing into a plastic tube.

            The researchers wanted to investigate both IBS and SIBO because each one indicates that something is going wrong with digestion; some patients have both problems, but others have just one or the other. They ended up with one measure of gastrointestinal distress that was based on reported criteria (i.e. IBS), and one that was based on measurable biology (i.e. SIBO).

            People with restless legs syndrome discovered the study through ads that made no mention of gastrointestinal symptoms. Their diagnoses of RLS were confirmed by the investigators, and then each subject was assessed for both IBS and SIBO.

            It turned out that IBS was diagnosed in 28% of subjects with restless legs syndrome, compared to 4% of the controls. In some of the cases, the IBS symptoms had appeared before the onset of the RLS symptoms. In others, the two problems started around the same time.

            As for SIBO, the breath test showed it was present in 69% of the people with restless legs syndrome, compared to 28% of the controls.

            The conclusion? People with restless legs syndrome have a greater incidence of IBS and SIBO – that is, a greater incidence of problems in the digestive system – than people without it. And in at least some people with restless legs syndrome, the associated gastrointestinal problem was related to bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine.”

  • Elisabeth Henriksson

    Magnesium is the reason for mild RLS in just a few of the patients with mild symphtoms.
    The latest scientist reports tells us that hypoxi is the reason behind most peoples RLS.
    Hypoxi that affects the ferritin levels.
    There are some science reports about giving high ammounts of magnesium that did not help the RLS-patient. Try to find them.