Part two in a two part series by David Wimble, www.nlm.nih.gov
In PART ONE of this article I listed how several inflammatory conditions have been tested to have a higher prevalence of Restless Legs Syndrome. Yet the idea of inflammation being the common link is completely ignored.
As a medically uneducated person, if I was faced with a question on an exam that stated “There are forty inflammatory conditions that show a higher prevalence of Restless Legs Syndrome. Based on this information, what do you think may be causing the legs to be restless?”
- a) abnormal use of iron by the brain
- b) dopamine receptors are not signalling correctly
- c) medications
- d) inflammation
The dumb me would think, “well, if they’re all inflammatory conditions, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that the common link is d) inflammation.”
However, I would be wrong. In fact, according to science ALL the answers are right, except mine.
So despite my stifling ignorance, I present to you more evidence of the unshakeable link between inflammation and Restless Legs Syndrome.
2. LOW IRON AND LOW DOPAMINE LEVELS
Low iron is common with RLS patients and is believed by scientists to be a primary cause of the condition. However, there is rarely any mention that inflammation can cause iron levels to lower.
Dopamine levels are also low in many cases. When you talk to someone with RLS, it’s very likely they are taking a drug called a “dopamine agonist” that helps to stabilize their dopamine levels. Again, inflammation is never considered as the true culprit even though it has been proven to alter dopamine levels.
The relationship between low iron, low dopamine levels and RLS is tightly intertwined. But for some reason, the binding member of the fearsome foursome, inflammation, is never considered a suspect.
Inflammation, aka “He Who Must Not Be Named”, seems to always be lurking in the background, but is never brought to trial.
Below are excerpts from studies that demonstrate this complex relationship:
Iron and Inflammation: “Patients with acute inflammation present altered iron status indexes that resemble those observed in the anemia of chronic disease” (Chiari et al. 1995).
Iron and RLS: “Evidence indicates that low levels of iron in the brain also may be responsible for RLS” (from “Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke).
Iron, Dopamine and RLS: “The results of our study suggest that idiopathic RLS patients may have a dysfunction of dopamine production induced by the iron deficiency in a dopamine-related specific area of the brain, and support the iron-dopamine model of this syndrome” (Soichi Mizuno et al. 2004).
“A clear link exists between iron deficiency and nigrostriatal dopamine malfunction. This link appears to play an important role in at least Restless Legs Syndrome if not several other neurological diseases” (Jellena et al. 2013).
3. STRESS, INFLAMMATION AND RLS
Now here’s something we can all relate to … stress!
The last thing someone with restless legs, getting 2 hours sleep a night, needs to hear, is that the STRESS they’re experiencing because of their condition, is actually making the symptoms WORSE.
Lately there have been many studies published showing that stress is a big time body inflamer.
Stress and Inflammation: “Psychological stress on the body’s ability to regulate inflammation can promote the development and progression of disease. Inflammation is partly regulated by the hormone cortisol and when cortisol is not allowed to serve this function, inflammation can get out of control” (Cohen et al. 2012).
Stress and RLS: “The cause of Restless Legs Syndrome is unknown in most patients; however, stress appears to make the condition worse” (Sleep Disorders Guide www.rlcure.com).
“Stress or emotional upset can make RLS symptoms worse” (U.S. National Library of Medicine www.nlm.nih.gov).
4. INFLAMMATION AND RLS LEVELS ARE OFTEN HIGH IN THE THIRD TRIMESTER OF PREGNANCY
Here’s a quirky fact, that on its own should be enough evidence to warrant an investigation, yet it is completely being ignored.
Studies show that there is an unusually high prevalence of both inflammation and RLS in the third trimester of pregnancy.
Pregnancy and Inflammation: “A significant increase of proinflammatory cytokines is produced in the third trimester” (Gilbert et al. 2003).
Pregnancy and RLS: “In our study RLS prevalence increased from 0 during preconception to 23% during the third trimester of pregnancy.” (Zaffke et al. 2001).
5. INFLAMMATION LEVELS AND RLS ARE OFTEN HIGHER IN THE ELDERLY POPULATION
This is also a puzzler as to why someone hasn’t studied this correlation?
The Elderly and Inflammation: “Chronic low-grade inflammation is a fundamental characteristic of aging” (Schroecksnadel et al. 2011).
The Elderly and RLS: “RLS affects 10 to 35% of the elderly population” (Dantas et al. 2008).
6. REMEDIES THAT LESSEN BOTH INFLAMMATION AND RLS
The most popular remedies for RLS that you’ll find on the internet are Vitamin D, Folic Acid and Magnesium. As you’ll see below, they allhave anti-inflammatory properties. I have also include a few other treatments that have helped people with RLS and also have anti-inflammatory properties.
The fact is, for the FIVE years I’ve been doing this RLS research, I have yet to run across a single supplement or non-pharma treatment that has helped lessen someone’s symptoms that DOESN’T have anti-inflammatory properties.
Here are some popular remedies:
Vitamin D and Inflammation: “Vitamin D inhibits inflammatory gene signalling” (Zhang et al. 2012).
Vitamin D and RLS: “Our findings may support an association between vitamin D deficiency and RLS” (Oran et al. 2014).
Folic Acid (vitamin B11) and Inflammation: “Lab tests can also measure how much folic acid people have in their bodies. When they compare how much folic acid is present in someone’s body, they find that it is inversely related to their amount of inflammation. Typically, the lower the amount of folic acid, the greater the amount of inflammation” (Soliniet al. 2006).
Folic Acid and RLS: “High doses of folic acid (5-30 mg daily) appear to normalize folate nutriture and induce a recovery” (from “Nutritional Influences on Illness: Restless Legs Syndrome” by Melvyn R. Werbach, MD).
Valerian and Inflammation: “Valerian is a good anti-inflammatory agent helping with swelling, pain, and redness” (from “Valerian the Stress Buster” by Dr. Paul Haider).
Valerian and RLS: “The results of our study suggest that the use of 800 mg of valerian for 8 weeks improves symptoms of RLS (Cuellar and Ratcliffe. 2009).
Magnesium and Inflammation: “When magnesium levels fall researchers note a profound increase of inflammatory cytokines present, along with increased levels of histamine” (Nair and Schwartz. 1990).
Magnesium and RLS: “Both anecdotal evidence and a few scientific studies support the use of magnesium as helping with RLS” (“The Link Between Magnesium and RLS” Healthline).
Yoga and Inflammation: “Yoga improved exercise tolerance and positively affected levels of inflammatory markers” (Pullen et al. 2011).
Yoga and RLS: “Our preliminary findings suggest that yoga may be effective in attenuating RLS symptoms and symptom severity” (Innes et al. 2013).
7. RLS TRIGGERS THAT ARE ALSO INFLAMMATORY
The most common RLS triggers are sugar, fats, dairy, alcohol, gluten, starchy foods (potatoes, pasta etc.), red meat, MSG and caffeine.
I won’t bore you with more excerpts from studies. Take my word for it, they are ALL inflammatory and all of them tend to make people’s RLS symptoms WORSE.
So there you have it. I’ve gathered the evidence and presented it to you.
You may still not believe that there’s a connection between inflammation and Restless Legs Syndrome.
But, like the Monk said to the Atheist, you’ll never prove that there isn’t one.
Unsure of what inflammation is? Check this out
David Wimble hosts a free information website for people suffering from Restless Legs Syndrome www.rlcure.com. David suffered from severe RLS for over 20 years until he discovered that by following an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle, RLS symptoms could be lessened, and eventually disappear. David also hosts a blog and Facebook page and is always looking for RLS success stories to publish. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org