Q & A: Restless Leg Syndrome Herbal Remedies

| March/April 2002

I’ve been told by three medical doctors that I have restless leg syndrome. However, none will tell me what to do about it. I have leg and arm spasms all night long. The condition is getting worse (over a long period of time). At first it was just my legs, now my legs and arms. At first it started after I fell asleep, now I can feel it coming on before I fall asleep. Some evenings my leg muscles will start tightening up while I’m just sitting, relaxing before I even go to bed. What can I do about it? I’m losing a LOT of sleep!
—V. S., Shelby Township, Michigan 

Stansbury responds: Restless leg syndrome is a poorly understood ailment involving altered motor nerve impulses in the legs, primarily. Although the muscles are most obviously affected, the underlying cause involves the nervous input that controls muscle tone. Muscle relaxants and nerve sedatives are the most widely used pharmaceuticals for this complaint, with varying degrees of success, and often with numerous side effects such as fatigue and muscle weakness. Alternative treatments include both nutrients and herbs that affect nerve impulses and muscle tone.

Magnesium is important to try because this mineral is involved with both muscle tone and the synthesis of neurotransmitters enabling nerve conduction. Calcium is also involved in muscle tone, and a deficiency of this mineral is associated with muscle cramps. Try 750 to 1,000 mg of magnesium and 1,000 to 2,000 mg of calcium per day, taken in the evenings.

Another important supplement to begin is a B-complex vitamin. B vitamins are also involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, and deficiency states are associated with muscle twitching, tingling in the arms and legs, and numerous nerve symptoms. Look for a “high dose” multi B-vitamin combination, one that claims to have ten times the RDA or even substantially more of thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), and cyanocobalamin (B12). Take B vitamins with meals two or three times a day. Improvements may be noted fairly quickly with magnesium, calcium, and the B vitamins, perhaps in just a few weeks’ time, with more substantial and lasting effects being obtained over a few months.

Herbs to consider include the nerve-toning and muscle-relaxing plants. First, the nerve toners: Milky oats (Avena sativa), gotu kola (Centella asiatica), and ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) have long been used for nervous deficiency. By various mechanisms, these herbs may all improve nerve tone and adrenal and central nervous system control of muscle tone and reduce the restless leg condition over time. You may take one or all of these herbs several times per day for several months—gradual improvement should occur over time.

Muscle-relaxing herbs taken before bed may improve the quality of your sleep. Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and kava (Piper methysticum) are all muscle-relaxing and sleep-enhancing herbs. Take one or more of these at night before bed—perhaps a dose an hour before bed and a dose at bedtime. If you don’t notice anything upon the first night of use, double or even triple the dose on the following evenings, as these should work right away. These muscle relaxants, although fast-acting, may not correct the underlying problem in any lasting way (as may the previous suggestions) and will likely have to be used over and over again.



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