Restless leg syndrome is a torturous condition that causes your legs to want to jump up and run away when you want to sleep. They can also itch, burn, or have a creepy-crawly feeling.
Drugs for restless leg syndrome dull the body and brain and don’t address the underlying cause of a condition that affects 5 million adults and 1 million children. Restless leg syndrome occurs in twice as many women than men and increases the risk for chronic disease and early mortality.
Diet and Lifestyle Links to Restless Leg Syndrome
The cause of restless leg syndrome is different for each person, although it comes down to a few general factors. The first thing to look at is whether brain health is supported through diet and lifestyle:
Blood sugar stability. A diet high in sugars and processed carbs sends blood sugar spiking and crashing. These extreme fluctuations degenerate and inflame the brain, contributing to all manner of brain-based problems, including restless leg syndrome.
Poor gut health. Leaky gut and too many bad gut bacteria profoundly impact brain health.
Food sensitivities. An immune reaction to a food can inflame the brain. Gluten and dairy in particular are inflammatory for many people and can cause the immune system to destroy brain tissue in a neurological autoimmune disorder.
Other metabolic factors that may contribute to restless leg syndrome include poor nutrition, hormone imbalances, autoimmune disease, poor thyroid function, neurotransmitter (brain chemical) activity, and a previous head injury.
Additionally, research shows that iron deficiency as well as magnesium or vitamin D deficiencies may be related to restless leg symptoms.
Functional Neurology for Restless Leg Syndrome
If you’ve supported your brain health and still struggle with restless leg syndrome, you may need functional neurology help.
Restless leg syndrome can be traced to the basal ganglia, an area in the brain that governs involuntary movements. For instance, basal ganglia dysfunction also causes tics, spasms, and tremors.
In order for the basal ganglia to function properly, other areas of the brain must “fire” (communicate) sufficiently with the basal ganglia so it can do its job of inhibiting involuntary and repetitive movement.
However, these other areas of the brain may not fire adequately into the basal ganglia due to various reasons, including imbalanced brain development in childhood, brain injury, brain inflammation, brain degeneration, or other glitches in brain circuitry.
In functional neurology, we examine brain function through various tests that evaluate reflexes, movement and balance, responses to stimuli, and how the eyes move — the eyes are a window into how well brain circuitry functions.
Based on these findings, we perform therapeutic exercises in the office and give you techniques to practice at home. These practices activate or dampen different areas of the brain depending on what the basal ganglia needs to function optimally. This approach helps many resolve restless leg symptoms.
This is a very general overview to a complex neurological topic, but gives you a general idea of a non-pharmaceutical way to manage restless leg syndrome. Ask my office for more information.
You’ve probably heard it over and over: Stress raises the risk of disease. But how do you know if your stress is the disease-causing kind? It’s helpful to know some signs and about the adrenal stress test.
Severe stress can either cause you to be fatigued all the time, wired all the time, or a mix of both. Or maybe stress manifests as sleep issues.
It’s not uncommon for people to become so used to being stressed out they fail to realize it’s an issue. They have forgotten how not to feel stressed out.
Symptoms of fatigue-based stress
To get the most from the adrenal stress test, do the test a second time after following a health protocol for four to six weeks. This shows you whether you're on the right track with your healing approach.
This is because stress in the body is always caused by more than just the stress that we perceive, for example low or high blood sugar, an infection, or autoimmune disease.
Adrenal health should improve as you manage these conditions. If things do not improve, it means you must keep searching to find out what is taxing the body.
Measuring your sleep-wake cycleAnother way to gauge stress with the adrenal stress test is to look at your sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm.
Are you alert in the morning and sleepy at night? An abnormal circadian rhythm is one symptom of adrenal stress.
Your primary stress hormone, cortisol, should be high in the morning and low at night on an adrenal stress test. Many people have a backwards rhythm causing fatigue in the morning and insomnia at night. Or, instead of a gradual decline of cortisol during the day, it may drop in the afternoon, causing an energy crash.
Where are you on the adrenal stress test scale?By measuring several markers, the adrenal stress test can tell you whether you are in:
The adrenal stress test also measures immune cells called total SIgA. This is a measure of how stress has impacted your immune system over time. If SIgA is low, it can mean you are more susceptible to food intolerances, infections, and weakened immunity.
Start with blood sugar stability to manage stressOne of the most common causes of chronic stress is a blood sugar imbalance Addressing high or low blood sugar are vital to addressing chronic stress.
Various herbal and nutritional compounds, such as adrenal adaptogens, can profoundly influence adrenal function. Ask my office about the adrenal stress test and how you can support your adrenal health.
If you have chronic gut problems, you could have a brain problem. This is especially true if you’ve had a head injury or if you also suffer from worsening memory, brain fog, cognitive decline, or other symptoms of poor brain function.
Chronic digestive complaints — indigestion, acid reflux, constipation, burping, gas, bloating, diarrhea, pain, or irritable bowel disorders — are common complaints of a brain that is not functioning well.
The brain gives orders to the gut through the vagus nerve, which then tells the gut to digest food, repair and regenerate the gut lining, push food through the intestines (motility), and many other functions.
When brain function declines, the brain does not give the gut enough input. As a result, constipation, leaky gut, food sensitivities, irritable bowel disorders, and other problems can arise. This is one reason why people with a head injury or dementia have chronic gut complaints.
Exercise the vagus nerve to address gut problemsIn functional neurology, we conduct a neurological exam to evaluate areas of the brain that are not functioning well. We then provide activities to activate or dampen different areas of the brain, depending on your needs, to improve function. This in turn improves communication of the vagus nerve with the gut.
Fortunately, you can also work on activating the vagus nerve yourself at home with some very simple daily activities.
Vagus nerve exercisesA few simple tests can tell you if your vagus nerve may not be sufficiently active:
Gargle vigorously several times a day. Gargling contracts the back of the throat, which activates the vagus nerve. Gargle each drink of a glass of water several times a day. Gargle vigorously and for a good length of time, ideally until your eyes tear (it may take a while to build up to that.)
Sing loudly. If you are alone at home or in the car, spend some time singing as loudly as you can. This also activates the back of the throat and hence the vagus.
Gag. Using a tongue depressor, which you can buy on Amazon, gently press on the back of your tongue to make yourself gag. Please do not poke the back of your throat. Do this several times a day, again, ideally until your eyes tear. Gargling and singing are like sprints for the vagus nerve, whereas gagging is strength training.
Coffee enemas. Please Google instructions for doing a coffee enema or read how in Dr. Kharrazian’s book. Hold the enema solution as long as you can. That, together with compounds in coffee that stimulate nerve receptors, will help activate the vagus nerve.
This is a simple overview of how to improve gut function by activating the brain. For more customized advice, please contact my office.