A Healthy Diet for RLS
Add restless legs syndrome (RLS) to the long list of health woes that can be eased with theright healthy diet. Overall good nutrition, coupled with a few specific dietary changes, may help bring relief and improve your quality of life with RLS. For some people, dietary changes may eliminate the need for other types of treatment, including medications. That's because symptoms of RLS, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, can be triggered by underlying nutritional deficiencies. And research suggests a link between RLS and obesity, making a healthy diet and weight management even more important to your well-being.
The Link Between RLS and Obesity
People who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for a number of health conditions, including heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. A study published inNeurologyfound that being obese is also associated with an increased risk for RLS.
The study involved 65,554 women and 23,119 men. None of the participants had diabetes or arthritis, and none of the women were pregnant. Researchers found 6 percent of the women and 4 percent of the men to have RLS. It was noted those who were obese were roughly one and a half times more likely to have RLS than people with a normal body weight were. The study pointed out, however, that more research is needed to determine if obesity is actually a cause of RLS.
Although the link between obesity and RLS hasn’t been definitively established, Ihtsham Haq, MD, a neurologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., points out that maintaining a healthy weight is always a good idea. "Obesity is associated with many conditions, and encouraging people who are obese to lose weight is certainly in their best interest," he says.
A Healthy Diet for RLS
Eating a healthy diet helps you maintain a healthy weight, and it may also help you avoid certain nutritional deficiencies that may be an underlying cause of RLS.
"Folic acid, vitamin B12, and iron deficiencies are all associated with RLS. In fact, iron deficiency can lead to anemia, which is a major risk factor for the condition," says Georgia Giannopoulos, RD, a certified dietary manager and clinical nutrition support dietitian at New York Presbyterian Weill-Cornell Medical Center in New York City who treats people with RLS. "Once you pinpoint what type of deficiency a person has, you can treat the cause of their symptoms."
Talk to your doctor about the possibility of one of the following nutritional deficiencies:
Iron.Research published in the journalAlternative Medicine Reviewshows that anemia, or a low iron level, is a common underlying cause of RLS. Iron concentrations in the blood are also 50 percent to 60 percent lower at night, which may explain why RLS symptoms tend to flare later in the day. A study published inSleep Medicinefound that iron for RLS treatment produced significant or complete improvement of RLS symptoms in 17 of 25 women without causing major side effects. Dr. Haq notes that supplementing with iron for RLS is a simple way to help people with an iron deficiency get relief from their symptoms.
"Iron-rich foods are generally animal sources, such as beef. Fish also tends to be high in iron, particularly oysters and sardines," says Demera Hale, RD, of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N. C. "Vegetarian sources of iron include fortified grains and leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and collards." Giannopoulos adds that eating iron-rich foods along with a source of vitamin C, such as citrus fruit like an orange or a grapefruit, can improve iron absorption.
Magnesium.Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function. A deficiency in this mineral is also associated with RLS. According to a study published in the journalSleep,magnesium supplementation may be a good alternative therapy for people with mild or moderate RLS. The participants involved in the study were treated with oral magnesium for four to six weeks. Over the course of the study, their RLS symptoms decreased significantly.
Older adults and people with chronic malabsorptive conditions, such as Crohn's disease, are at increased risk for magnesium deficiency. People with alcohol addiction and poorly controlled diabetes are also at greater risk.
Green vegetables, such as spinach, are high in magnesium. Other magnesium-rich foods include legumes, nuts, and whole grains.
Folate and vitamin B12.Low levels of vitamin B12 and folate are associated with diabetic neuropathy — a condition that could trigger symptoms of RLS. Research from the same study that looked at iron for RLS in the journalAlternative Medicine Reviewalso found that supplementation with folate may be effective in reducing RLS symptoms and could play a role in treating RLS.
People with alcohol addiction and other causes of malabsorption are among those at greater risk for folate and B12 deficiencies. "A folate deficiency is rare," Giannopoulos notes. "It usually comes with another nutritional deficiency, such as iron."
Although folate is found in a variety of foods, those with the highest levels include spinach, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts, Giannopoulos says. Folic acid is also added to enriched breads, cereals, flours, pastas, rice, and other grains. Beef liver and clams are among the best sources of vitamin B12. Other sources of this vitamin include enriched cereals, fish, eggs, and dairy products.
More Ideas for a Healthy RLS Diet
Caffeine intake has been linked to an increase in RLS symptoms. Avoiding this stimulant, which is found not only in coffee and tea but also chocolate and many sodas, may help ease your symptoms. Drinking alcohol can also increase the intensity of symptoms in many people with RLS.
Video: Restless Legs Syndrome and Sleep - Diagnosis and Treatments
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