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Herbs for Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a neurological disorder characterized by an overwhelming urge to move the legs, usually in response to muscle twitching or a pins and needles sensation. Some people report experiencing “creeping” impressions, as though an insect is crawling on their skin. Symptoms tend to occur more often at night when the person is at rest, making sleep difficult. It should be noted that RLS can also affect muscle in the arms.

Conventional treatment typically consists of dopamine agonists (agents that “turn on” dopamine receptors), but these drugs sometimes increase the severity and frequency of symptoms they are given to treat, as well as trigger compulsive behaviors like excessive gambling. Levodopa, also known as L-DOPA, a drug commonly given to increase dopamine levels in people with Parkinson’s disease, is also used to treat RLS. However, a long list of potential side effects are associated with this drug that range from hair loss and arrhythmias to confusion and hallucinations. Other medications used for RLS include benzodiazepines, opiates and anti-seizure drugs.

A Natural Approach

Muscles need an adequate supply of certain minerals in order to function properly. In fact, a deficiency in magnesium, potassium or calcium can cause twitching. Consider drinking a few cups of a mineral-rich herbal infusion each day to address this problem. I make a refreshing brew of milky oats, alfalfa and holy basil with a bit of peppermint for flavor – no sugar needed – and keep this in the refrigerator to drink cold throughout the day. In the evening, look to sleep-promoting and muscle-relaxing herbs such as valerian, skullcap or passionflower, taken as tea or tincture.

People with RLS tend to have low liver enzyme levels. Also, it appears that treatment drugs that worsen symptoms of RLS inhibit the CYP4503A4 enzyme (and increase thyroid hormone activity). St. John’s wort has been shown to boost levels of CYP4503A4 and relieve RLS symptoms. In a 2013 pilot trial, Brazilian researchers gave 21 people with RLS 300 mg of St. John’s wort extract to take two-to-three hours before bedtime each day for a total of three months. At the end of the trial, 17 of the 21 patients reported sustained symptom improvement.

Other Considerations

Think about taking a B-complex supplement. Also, iron deficiency is associated with RLS, so consider adding a folate supplement to your daily regimen. Herbs that help in this department include nettle, dandelion and yellow dock.

Stretch your leg muscles frequently throughout the day, as well as shortly before retiring for the night. Gentle yoga, Qigong or Tai Chi movements are an excellent way to balance mind and body by moving stagnant energy away from organs and limbs.

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