Natural health: Restless legs and tinnitus

Megan Sheppard gives her advice on dealing with your health issues naturally.

Natural health: Restless legs and tinnitus

Q. I have an elderly friend who suffers badly from restless legs. Any advice to help her would be welcome.

A. Restless legs is more than just feeling a constant need to move your legs, it can feel as if you have ants crawling inside your legs, or as if you are receiving electric shocks.

One of the main issues with this syndrome is it typically gets worse at night, which means that a sufferer can go months or even years without getting a full night’s sleep.

Getting up, walking around, and massaging the legs are all useful techniques to soothe the agitation — but this doesn’t address the root cause, nor will it allow your friend to get quality sleep.

It is now thought that the issue of “growing pains” in children may in fact be an early manifestation of restless legs, with individuals who experience leg cramps during pregnancy also being more prone to developing restless legs syndrome.

It does tend to get worse as we age and could be linked to certain deficiencies.

Folate or folic acid and iron (ferritin levels in particular) are two such deficiencies common to most restless legs sufferers.

While it is known that both these nutrients are required in the brain and peripheral nervous system, the exact link as to how low levels might cause restless legs is still not clear.

It is likely that these deficiencies exacerbate the condition rather than directly trigger it, but your friend should still get her levels checked and supplement if necessary, especially given that one in four sufferers also have iron-deficiency anaemia.

While we are on the topic of iron deficiency and supplementation, it is important to note you should only supplement if you have a known deficiency. Individuals with haemochromatosis absorb and store too much iron, in which case supplementation would be harmful to their health.

On the other end of the scale, extreme iron deficiency can be a result of bleeding in the stomach or intestines, so the cause of anaemia needs to be investigated if this is an issue.

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in movement, has been investigated in relation to this syndrome.

The dopamine-based drug Levodopa (L-Dopa), more commonly associated with Parkinson’s disease, will improve symptoms in most people with restless legs syndrome. Interestingly, broad beans are a good food source of L-Dopa.

Removing coffee, tea, chocolate, and cola from the diet will also improve symptoms, as will cutting back or cutting out sugar.

The recommended daily dosage of magnesium is 400mg, iron should be prescribed as necessary by your doctor, as should folic acid (with recommended dosages for restless legs varying from 5,000 to 20,000 micrograms daily).

Since folic acid is one of the B vitamins, all of which are important for nerve health and function, a B complex is often needed to correct a deficiency across the B group.

Q. You recommended a vitamin for tinnitus some time ago but I have since misplaced the information. Can you please let me know what I need to take and how much?

A. Tinnitus can present as a ringing, buzzing, or even a white noise type of sound for some individuals. It is a result of damage to the nerve cells in the cochlea (the structure in the inner ear shaped a little like a snail shell).

The most common cause of this damage is loud or continual noise, but it can also be triggered by a virus, high blood pressure, prescription drugs (including aspirin and antibiotics), high levels of insulin, and degeneration as a result of ageing.

The vitamin I recommended for tinnitus is B12. This nutrient is crucial to the development of the myelin sheath, a fatty coating around nerve fibres that protects, insulates, and allows for the smooth transmission of electrical impulses. You will need to take 1,000 micrograms of vitamin B12, twice daily for tinnitus.

Low levels of vitamin B12 are also linked with other nervous system issues, such as memory loss, impaired reflex function, and impaired pain perception.

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