Remember when your parents would say, “Eat your vegetables,” at the dinner table? Well, there’s a reason. Foods rich in iron are a natural, easy way to maintain proper blood iron levels. Why is that important? Low iron can trigger medical problems and even something called restless legs syndrome.
What Is RLS?
According to the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation, restless leg syndrome (RLS) causes an overwhelming urge to move your legs or other body parts, often complemented by unusual or nasty sensations that could be defined as creeping, tugging, or pulling. Many symptoms happen most often during the night, severely disrupting your sleep and affecting your quality of life. It’s estimated that up to 10 percent of the U.S. population may suffer from RLS. But symptoms are manageable.
What Causes It?
You may suffer from one or both two types of restless legs syndrome that we know about. Primary RLS is often inherited, but the exact cause is still unknown. Treatment is designed to manage the symptoms. On the other hand, secondary RLS can be produced by pregnancy, renal failure, iron deficiency, narcolepsy, Parkinson’s disease, or neuropathy. In some cases, secondary RLS treatment can focus on the cause and perhaps eradicate the symptoms.
Know The Symptoms?
The main symptom? The urge to move your legs, plus:
- Sensations that happen following rest. They start after lying down or sitting for a long time, riding in a car, airplane, or sitting in a movie theater.
- Relief following movement. RLS sensations may subside with physical activity, like jiggling your legs, stretching, pacing, or walking.
- The symptoms get worse at night.
- Your legs twitch at night, which may be related to periodic limb movement of sleep.
What Is Ketamine?
Ketamine is a powerful medicine used in anesthesia to relieve depression, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, mood disorders, and chronic pain conditions like restless leg syndrome. It was first widely used to treat injured U.S. combat troops in Vietnam before being officially approved for anesthesia in 1970 and depression in 2019.
Because it’s a dissociative medicine and a powerful anesthetic, ketamine may be ideally suited to treat RLS symptoms.
Iron Deficiency & RLS
“People with restless legs syndrome (RLS) experience an overwhelming need to move the legs, particularly at night or as they fall asleep. But a simple treatment that may help reduce RLS symptoms is often overlooked as a potential first line of defense.”
According to Dr. John Winkelman, an RLS specialist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, there’s concern that people take medicine as a salve rather than trying a simple treatment – iron. And unlike certain medicine, more iron has relatively few side effects.
It’s not unusual for people with restless legs syndrome to have low blood levels of iron. As a result, there’s a popular opinion within the medical community that low blood iron levels may indeed be a potential cause of restless legs syndrome. The solution?
Get more iron in your system by eating iron-rich foods and foods with vitamin C.
- Red meat, pork, and chicken
- Seafood (think shellfish: clams, oysters, and mussels)
- Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
- Dried fruit like raisins and apricots
- Iron-rich cereals, bread, and pasta
- Leafy greens
Iron supplements are another possibility.
Healthy iron levels not only combat RLS but offer other benefits: “Iron is a mineral that’s essential for making red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Iron is also important for healthy muscles, bone marrow, and organ function. Iron levels that are too low or too high can cause serious health problems.”
Diagnosis & Treatment
Your doctor will ask for your medical history and inquire whether biological relatives suffer from it. You’ll also be required to describe your symptoms. An RLS diagnosis is based on criteria established by the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group. You may also have a physical and a neurological exam, including blood tests to check for iron deficiency. In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend seeing a sleep specialist or staying overnight at a sleep clinic.
Treatment may include medicine, ketamine therapy, iron-rich food, and boost your blood iron levels or iron supplements.
More than 30 million people in the U.S. have RLS, but the good news is the symptoms can be managed. With proper care, eating healthy foods, lifestyle changes, and medicine like ketamine, the irresistible urge to move your legs – and pain as a result – doesn’t have to rule your life.