If you like your restless legs you can keep them.
Did you know that several of your friends silently struggle every day with the ominous-sounding Willis-Ekbom’s Disease?
(I did too. Well, I still do, there is no definitive cure,
but to a much lesser extent – virtually non-existent.
Read on to see how you can beat this creepy-crawly nightmare.)
The affliction is more commonly referred to as Restless Legs Syndrome, which unfortunately makes a quite serious problem seem…, well, less serious.
What is Willis-Ekbom’s Disease?
For starters, it feels like this when you’re trying to sleep or relax at the end of the day:
WED is when you feel an “irresistible urge to move your legs“ (most often the legs, arms or phantom limbs) to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations. Moving the affected body part provides temporary relief. These urges are most common around bed time or when relaxing, e.g., when watching a movie.
Some simply give up on the relaxing, while others lay awake for hours, kicking wildly both voluntarily and involuntarily, to get rid of the crawling, creeping and tickling, even aching, sensations in the legs.
Fantasizing about simply hacking one’s legs off, to escape the symptoms, is not uncommon.
1.5 billion spastic legs kicking in the silence of the night.
Since 1 out of 10 has this “spectrum” (scale/degree) disorder in one form or the other, you might as well have it. Perhaps you just didn’t have a name for it?
Sir Thomas Willis described the syndrome in 1672, almost half a millennium ago. Karl-Axel Ekbom made a more comprehensive study in 1945. Together they have named the syndrome: Willis-Ekbom’s Disease: WED.
2 most unwelcome bed guests and 1 cure (9 actually).
As I stated above, I had two of these 1.5 billion legs as my obnoxious companions in the TV-couch and bed. For me the following serendipitous combination worked to reduce 99% of my problems:
- Cobra-ups (which I did to fix a bulging disc and hernia, resulting from poor couch posture – actually a lack of couch, lying on the floor with my neck up against the wall).
- Vitamin-D (I gradually read more and more about the wide spectrum benign effects of vitamin D, in particular in the north. I now eat 4000 IU = 100ug per day in the winter. Here is a recent article on vitamin-D and WED).
- Omega 3 (first and foremost anti-inflammatory, but also generally makes biological organisms work better at a cellular level).
- Iron (generally better and more varied food for other reasons; iron is used for a precursor to dopamine and dopamine drugs seem to work on RLS).
- Deadlifting (just a coincidence that I included this cure-all exercise in my program around the same time)
- Better posture at all times (after fixing my disc and starting to deadlift).
- Less continuous sitting time.
- Less sugar (sugar is inflammatory).
- Reduced stress (my work situation changed gradually to the better from 2005 and onward, but I hardly think that had any measurable effect on my condition).
Cobra-ups neutralize the vertebraes, after a day of sitting at the office, in the car and the couch.
CUs can prevent restless legs and sleep issues but most of all prevent throwing your back.
Cobras may seem unnatural, but so is walking on two legs. Humans’ back problems are due to us being fish and reptiles by construction. We still are as phoetuses. The quick and dirty adaption of a horizontal spine to a vertical one, with several compensatory bends, form the backbone of all hernias and related problems.
Blame the crocodiles!
Standing up further complicates the blood flow and oxygenation of various body parts – which is central to WED.
There is no known cure
I’m not saying I’ve found the cure. Curing RLS or WED would be like curing allergy; the spectrum of symptoms is too wide, as is the collection of causes.
Not even the mechanism is fully clear. A couple of things seem involved though: iron levels, oxygen levels (in the central nervous system as well as the muscle tissue), dopamine levels, blood flow, fitness level, inflammation, pinched nerves and electrolyte imbalances.
In general it seems the disease is hereditary (iron storing, oxygen transportation, blood vessels, dopamine) but its expression depends on nutrition (iron levels, inflammation, fitness, blood flow), the level of fitness (affects blood flow and oxygenation) and state of inflammation (affects blood vessels and blood flow).
As you see there is quite a lot (scientifically-based, as well as empirically tried by yours truly) you can do to get hours more of quality rest per day:
- Keep your iron levels in the correct range (iron is used in the dopamine system, as well as for transportation of oxygen, but too much is still too much).
- Keep your inflammation levels low (eat omega 3 and D-vitamin, avoid sugar. My guess is that the right lactobacteria would help too).
- Stay fit (obese have poor circulation and reduced oxygenation, and often poor posture too).
- Control your posture (to avoid bulging disks, hernias, pinched nerves: sit straight, don’t slouch, hold your cell phone at eye level, damn it!).
- Do mobility exercises (spine: cobra ups, chest/shoulder: morpheus, psoas: couch stretch, hip: squat).
- Try nitrate rich food for increased blood flow (beetroot juice, spinach, chard widen blood vessels; the gene for Nitrogen oxide is a marker for WED).
You really should do all of the above.
In addition, the drug Pramipexol widens the blood vessels as well as reduces pain, both of which provides relief from restless legs. I’ve never tried it, since my symptoms all but disappeared with a natural approach anyway.
Just say no to drugs (unless they are for recreational purposes, although a spliff probably reduces RLS/WED as well).
Other suggested “solutions” include cold showers, anti-depressants and sleeping pills. I wouldn’t go there – I mean who thinks a cold shower will help you fall asleep?
You decide how much trouble you want to pass on
An educated guess, based on epigenetics research, is that highly expressed WED, due to poor nutrition and low fitness level, will be inherited, so take care of your restless ones now before you pass them on to your children to a larger extent than you have to.
It’s a warning
See your restless legs as a warning, a signal to change your lifestyle. Eat better, exercise, don’t stress and you will short circuit the entire RLS chain of problem with fitness/posture/nerves/circulation/iron/dopamine/inflammation/vessel condition/blood flow/oxygenation.
Summary – there is hope, there is relief
- WED is not fun at all, I know.
- The causes are multifaceted and so are the cures (try them all to slide as far to the bottom of the WED spectrum as possible).
- The lifestyle changes you need to make do not guarantee total relief, but they are all beneficial anyway.
- At least do it for the kids.
Okay, in practice here is what you should do:
- Add 15 cobra-ups twice daily to your routine. It takes one minute and you shouldn’t get sweaty.
- Take omega 3 supplements and vitamin D if you don’t already.
- Add beetroots or spinach to your weekly food.
- Mobilize your hip, psoas, thoracic spine and shoulders regularly.
- Avoid sugar.
- Minimize sitting, but sit straight when you do.