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Learn How Magnesium Affects Restless Leg Syndrome
Magnesium is an important essential mineral in the body behind sodium, potassium and calcium. However, beyond its importance in maintaining general health, it can provide specific benefits to help relieve the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. This article explains how important magnesium is to your health, how it works for restless leg syndrome and how best to use it for this medical condition.
by Brad Chase
Magnesium is one of the essential minerals needed by the body. The human body contains about 25 grams of magnesium, most of which are found in the bones (about 60%) and the muscles (about 20%).
This mineral is important to many processes involved in cellular metabolism. For example, over 300 enzymes require magnesium as cofactor for various biochemical reactions in the body.
Besides activating enzymes, it also contributes to energy production, maintains normal muscular and nerve functions, regulates calcium levels and also keeps heart rhythm steady.
Like other minerals, magnesium cannot be produced in the body. This means that diet is the main source of the magnesium found in the body. It is, therefore, necessary to include magnesium-rich foods in one’s diet in order to meet the body requirement.
Some medical conditions can, however, disrupt the balance of magnesium in the body. Such conditions include gastrointestinal diseases, diabetes, pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism (high thyroid hormone levels), and kidney disease.
In addition, excessive consumption of coffee, diuretics, alcohol, as well as excessive sweat and prolonged stress can reduce magnesium levels in the body.
Due to the variety of roles that magnesium plays in the body, magnesium deficiency can affect a lot of normal body functions. In severe cases, low levels of calcium (hypocalcemia) and potassium (hypokalemia) in the blood may result from magnesium deficiency.
Other symptoms of magnesium deficiency include irritability, nausea and vomiting, abnormal heart rhythms, low blood pressure, confusion, muscle spasm and weakness, hyperventilation, insomnia, poor nail growth, seizures and restless leg syndrome.
Magnesium salts are also used as laxatives and therefore often cause the softening of stool.
Other side effects associated with the use of magnesium supplements include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and slower heart rate. Furthermore, high doses of magnesium can cause serious symptoms such as loss of appetite, muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, extremely low blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat.
Since magnesium is excreted from the body through the kidneys, patients with kidney and even renal problems should not take magnesium supplements.
In addition, old people are more at risk of magnesium toxicity because kidney functions reduce with age and it is likely people in this age group are already placed on drugs such as laxatives and antacids which are known to reduce the absorption of magnesium from the gastrointestinal tract.
Restless leg syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by uncomfortable sensations in the legs and, in some cases, the arms. These sensations have been described as tingling, burning, itching, creeping and crawling feelings and they are always accompanied by an uncontrollable urge to move the affected legs or arms.
Movement relieves the odd sensations although it only provides a temporal relief.
Typically, the symptoms of restless leg syndrome begin in the evening and worsen at night, especially when in a position of rest. In fact, these are the defining characteristics of restless leg syndrome.
Due to the urge to keep the affected parts active at night, restless leg syndrome can cause sleep deprivation which may result in insomnia and depression.
About 1 out of 10 people are affected by restless legs syndrome in the US. Although, it may begin at any age, older people and pregnant women are mostly affected.
Restless leg syndrome, also called Willis-Ekbom disease, is classified into 2 categories: primary and secondary restless leg syndrome.
The cause of primary restless leg syndrome is unknown and it usually starts early, before the age of 40, with mild symptoms. The symptoms then gradually get worse with age.
Secondary restless leg syndrome, on the other hand, begins suddenly in people above the age of 40. The symptoms, in this case, can appear daily, right from the onset of the condition. It is linked to some specific medical conditions and the use of certain drugs can also trigger it.
Although, it is unsure exactly how restless leg syndrome is triggered, clinicians have identified some major factors that may cause secondary restless leg syndrome.
Some cases of restless leg syndrome are also caused by hereditary through the inheritance of specific genes. In some other cases, restless leg syndrome can be triggered by an underlying medical condition such as Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, diabetes, celiac disease, rheumatoid disease, Sjorgen’s syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, venous reflux, folate deficiencies, and magnesium deficiencies.
Treatment of secondary restless leg syndrome is usually directed towards the underlying cause.
In some cases, simple withdrawal of medications responsible for the disorder may just be enough to stop the symptoms.
Most of the medications developed to manage restless leg syndrome are opiates, dopamine agonists and muscle relaxants.
Sleeping medications are also used so as to help patients sleep better. However, sleeping medications do not reduce symptoms of restless leg syndrome.
Magnesium supplements are recommended for patients when the underlying factor points to magnesium deficiency.
The most relevant property of magnesium to the treatment of restless leg syndrome is its ability to relax the muscles.
More specifically, magnesium interacts with calcium to help regulate the nerves and muscles.
Magnesium serves as a ‘chemical gate blocker’ in nerve cells. It relaxes the nerves by preventing calcium from rushing into the nerve cells to activate them. However, when magnesium levels in the body are low, the nerve cells become overactive, therefore, sending too many messages to the muscles. This causes the muscles to constantly contract.
This explains how magnesium deficiency can cause muscle tension, muscle soreness, muscle spasms, muscle cramps, and muscle fatigue which characterize restless leg syndrome.
In fact, a lot of restless leg syndrome sufferers are magnesium deficient and this underlying factor can simply be addressed with the use of magnesium supplements and, also, by adopting magnesium-rich foods into the diet.
An open pilot study published in the journal, Sleep, investigated the effectiveness of magnesium therapy for restless leg syndrome. This is the landmark study and the most quoted study regarding the link between magnesium and restless leg syndrome.
In this study, 6 patients suffering from mild-to-moderate restless leg syndrome were given oral magnesium, at a dose of 12.4 mmol every evening over a period of 4-6 weeks.
The results of the study showed that the symptoms of restless leg syndrome in all the patients were significantly improved by magnesium supplementation.
Another study published in the journal, Clinical Sleep Medicine, examined the effectiveness of intravenous magnesium sulfate in a 34 year old pregnant woman. The patient, who had a 13-year history of restless leg syndrome, was in pre-term labor at 26 weeks. Magnesium sulfate (2 g) was administered to the patient intravenously for two days.
The results of this investigational study showed that the patient completely recovered after treatment. The symptoms were reported to have improved even from the first day of treatment.
Restless leg syndrome affects women more than men but it is even more prevalent among pregnant women.
Muscle cramps and other odd sensations which characterize restless leg syndrome have been documented in many pregnant women. These symptoms usually worsen during the third trimester of pregnancy, especially around the seventh and eighth months.
In most cases, the symptoms of restless leg syndrome in pregnant women are often temporary and they usually disappear after delivery or within a month thereafter.
It is not completely clear what causes the restless leg syndrome in pregnant women but some factors have been identified as possible causes. Some of the factors that can cause restless leg syndrome in pregnant women include hormonal changes, folate deficiency and iron deficiency.
A 2004 study published in the journal, Neurology, investigated the prevalence of restless leg syndrome among pregnant women.
In this study, 626 pregnant women were examined for 2 years.
The researchers found out that 27% of the women were affected with restless leg syndrome during pregnancy. While 17% of the women have never suffered from restless leg syndrome prior to pregnancy, 10% were already suffering from the condition before being pregnant. As much as 24% of the women experienced symptoms at least once a week with a further 15% showing symptoms at least three times a week.
Symptoms also increased greatly in the months before delivery especially in women who were experiencing restless leg syndrome for the first time.
The National Academy of Sciences set a tolerable upper limit of 350mg magnesium supplement per day for anyone aged 9 and above. This limit only applies to magnesium obtained from dietary supplements.
Most magnesium supplements are available in form of oral magnesium salts (containing magnesium and another substance). They, however, vary in the rate at which they are absorbed into the body.
Therefore, the magnesium supplement to choose should be a magnesium salt with high bioavailability.
Magnesium oxide, for example, has a poor absorption rate (about 4%), while, magnesium glycinate and chelated magnesium have absorption rates of about 40%.
Magnesium levels in the body can also be boosted with foods rich in the mineral such as green, leafy vegetables, whole grain cereals, legumes, beans and nuts.
For optimal result when treating restless leg syndrome with natural supplements, it is better to take a supplement that contains magnesium and other natural supplements that can provide a synergistic effect that greatly relieves the symptoms of the syndrome.
Sedorum is an excellent example of such combination supplements for restless leg syndrome.
Sedorum contains magnesium, iron, folic acid, calcium and vitamin B12, all proven to be effective in providing relief for restless leg syndrome. With Sedorum containing this unique blend of minerals and vitamins, it provides an effective and broad therapeutic cover for most restless leg syndrome regardless of the causative factors.
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