Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological condition suffered by approximately 5-8% of British adults. Sufferers describe an irresistible urge to move their legs. The condition causes an uncomfortable, “itchy,” “pins and needles,” or “creepy crawly” and hot feeling in the legs. The sensations are usually worse at rest, especially when lying or sitting, particularly at night and gets less noticeable during the day.

In most cases, there isn’t a certain diagnosis for restless legs syndrome; however, there is maybe a genetic factor involved as well as some underlying conditions such as iron deficiency, stress, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, certain medications, depression, dopamine imbalances etc.

Traditional Chinese medicine approaches the condition primarily through analysis of symptom patterns and pathogenic contributors. The involuntary urging movements of the legs are interpreted as being a manifestation of “internal wind,” a condition that is related to liver and in particular its blood deficiency complicated with ‘deficient heat’.

The fact that the disorder occurs more notably at night disturbs sleep suggests that the deficiency interferes with the weakness of other internal organs, such as heart or liver with symptoms associated particularly at night. From a western perspective that could imply the effects on the nervous system and specific neuro-transmitters such as dopamine. The possibility of a brain metabolism defect may suggest deficiency of the kidney (since the brain is considered an outgrowth of the kidney system in the Chinese understanding) and a deficiency of the heart, which influences brain function.

The limitation of the movements to the legs, which are said to be influenced by the liver-kidney relationship, suggests deficient dynamics amongst the two organs. The liver-kidney system is said to deteriorate with aging and to be responsible for many of the disorders that arise with aging, so this relationship may also explain the prevalence of the disease among the elderly leading or contributing to Parkinson’s disease in some cases. In addition the correlation of Restless Legs Syndrome with poor circulation suggests that blood stagnation may be a contributing factor to the problem. The deficiency of iron and folate in the blood may correspond to a blood deficiency syndrome. In Chinese medicine Restless Leg Syndrome is usually depicted as the ‘deficiency and injury of the heart, liver and kidney’.

RLS management

Herbal supplementation

Dang Gui and Astragalus (traditional formula titled “Chinese Angelica Decoction for Enriching Blood”) is a very effective herbal combination to address deficiency, stagnation as well as to treat fatigue. It improves iron deficiency, improves blood circulation, supply to all tissues and organs and strengthens the immune system.
Turmeric has a potent anti-inflammatory action and its actives cross the blood-brain barrier and can boost levels of dopamine naturally. Ideally the supplement should be taken with bio-peperin which helps with its absorption.

Dandelion tea has high levels of iron and detoxifies the liver and is cooling down the body.

Nettle is a traditional blood tonic with a high concentration of iron. It contains vitamins and minerals, including potassium and silica. Nettle also contains pro-vitamin A, the vitamin B complex, vitamin K1 and vitamin C, which can help the body absorb the iron and other minerals

found in the plant. It also interferes with the body’s production of prostaglandins and other inflammation-causing chemicals, addressing inflammatory factors of the condition.

Aswagandha This adaptogenic herb promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health and expands happiness. It is known as nervine tonic, helps to stabilize the flow of energy through the nerves and the body while improving the ability of the nervous system to manage stress. Sitoindosides and acylsterylglucosides in Ashwagandha are anti-stress regulating nerve excitation actives. It has anxiolytic effect and improves energy levels and mitochondrial health. Many studies conclude that Ashwagandha slows, stops, reverses or removes neuron atrophy and synaptic loss. Ashwagandha, its constituents and the metabolites of its constituents promote the growth of nerves after taking it for short period of time.

Nutritional support

Fish: Omega-3 fatty acids encourage more receptors for the neurotransmitter serotonin and a corresponding decrease in dopamine in the frontal cortex. They are good anti-inflammatory source and alternatively Krill oil could replace them as a vegan substitute and have better bio-availability (better absorbed).

Beans and legumes: Rich in protein and are healthful boosters of both dopamine and norepinephrine.

Watermelon:is rich in vitamins A, B6, and C. Vitamin B6 is used by the body to produce neurotransmitters serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine.

Bananas particularly at night are a good source of magnesium and help with relaxing the body and ease stress due to their tryptophan content which the body uses to produce 5-HTP, a compound which is then used to increase serotonin and melatonin, two vital mood and sleep-regulating neurotransmitters. The fruit in addition produces dopamine quinine particularly the brown areas on the fruit.

Supplement your diet with foods rich in antioxidants. Free radicals lower dopamine levels in the body, and antioxidants eliminate free radicals. Most vegetables and fruits contain some antioxidants, with red beans, blueberries, cranberries, artichokes, prunes and strawberries topping the list.

Vitamin support

A lot of patients are helped by having vitamin B complex and B12 injections which relax the body, treat anaemia underlying causes and affects positively the nervous system. The alleviation of symptoms is usually noticeable for days.

Acupuncture management

Acupuncture can break this cycle, calm the legs down, and promote peaceful sleep. There are many different symptoms that can be experienced at night for those people suffering it can be a very effective tool in addressing the symptoms associated with RLS. Its effectiveness is mainly due mechanisms of triggering endogenous opiates and its effects on the autonomic nervous system and improving leg circulation. In 2001 Wang Jian-bo published an article titled, “The Treatment of 18 Cases of Restless Leg Syndrome with Acupuncture,” in the (Zhejiang Journal of Chinese Medicine), where bilateral pain and discomfort, significantly improved with amelioration rate of 100% using this protocol.

Restless Leg Syndrome is a very concerning condition that affects the patient not only physically but psychologically as well. A proper diagnosis and treatment strategy is required for dealing with short and long term implications of the condition.

For appropriate diagnosis and treatment strategy, please contact Dr John Tsagaris on