Cause(s) of restless legs syndrome (RLS) are not clear at present and it appears there are a number of factors involved. One of them is excess weight and it seems being overweight is an important contributing factor. As our weight increases so does your risk for RLS according to the 2009 study by the Harvard Medical School (1).
In the study researchers surveyed 88,000 men and women and found that those who were generally obese, with a body mass index higher than 30, were at 40% higher risk of developing RLS. Moreover, those with a high waist circumference had an even higher risk—60%. Scientists think that the levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain which controls both movement and the pleasurable feeling from eating, may be involved. According to the Harvard study, the higher risks seem to lie in lower levels of dopamine which transmits signals between nerve cells and controls movement. Though scientists don’t exactly know why, lower dopamine levels are associated with Parkinson’s disease, as well as restless legs syndrome. Consequently losing weight overtime becomes of at most importance as it should alleviate and eventually correct RLS in many cases.
RLS can also develop in people who are not overweight, and in this case it has been linked to excessive nerve related inflammation. In such cases, specific nutrition and supplements supporting nerve health can make a real difference in symptoms.
Thirdly, it has been postulated that one of the causes of RLS is low iron. Research shows that enough iron is needed in the brain stem where pain signal is registered, and iron deficiency may cause pain by altering the structure and function of the brain stem which is reflected in altered nerve function that facilitates pain. This could be the case even if the iron blood test results are within the ‘normal’ ranges but fall towards the lower range of the spectrum.
In summary, more research is needed to pin point causes of RLS. Thankfully, nutrition and selective supplements tailored for each individual do make a difference as they play an important role in dealing with RLS at present. This includes providing nutrients that help to reduce inflammation, to heal the nerves and increase production of dopamine in the brain. Weight loss is of crucial importance (where needed), and diet high in iron, as well as high quality iron supplements are important considerations. As always, work with a knowledgeable health practitioner when undertaking any nutritional and/or supplementation programs.
Good health and blessings
Naturopath Herbalist Nutritionist
Gao X, Schwarzschild MA, Wang H, Ascherio A. Obesity and restless legs syndrome in men and women. Neurology. 2009 April. Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.