Alternative Treatments

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Many people with RLS feel reluctant, understandably, to choose the drug pathway, for various reasons. Their symptoms may be mild, unpredictable, or limited to particular confining situations such as in the theatre or on an airplane. Others have an aversion to drug therapy and prefer to try to find relief in complementary medicine.

First, it is a good idea to put into practice the ‘low-risk’ strategies described in this web site’s section;

See FAQs "What are some useful coping strategies for RLS?"

Many people have tried a range of alternatives: acupuncture, therapeutic massage, hypnotherapy, reflexology, yoga and various herbs, vitamin and mineral ‘remedies’. Reports show that some things work for some people but not for others, and often offer only temporary relief. Nevertheless, genuine reports show some positive results of significant relief.

With the major exception of iron, there are no scientific studies to verify the efficacy of any of these alternatives. Reports in 1945, from t he Swedish study by Dr Karl Ekbom, stressed the importance of adequate iron levels in people with RLS. More recent research by Drs Richard Allen and Christopher Earley of John Hopkins University in the US has confirmed these findings. They have documented central iron deficiency in patients with RLS through MRI and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) studies. They suggest that since iron plays an important role in the processing of dopamine in the brain, then low iron might disable the dopamine system.

Further studies by Dr Connor Ph.D. at the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Centre have revealed more about the iron / RLS connection. Their findings seem to be showing that there is an insufficiency of a specific receptor for iron transport … one that signals the RLS brain that it has enough iron, when in fact it has little or virtually no iron at all.

Studies have shown that a serum ferritin concentration, lower than 45 to 50 mcg/L, has been associated with increased severity of RLS. It is recommended that Vitamin C be taken with each dose of ferrous sulphate to enhance absorption and they should be taken about an hour before a meal or two hours after. You will need careful supervision by your doctor/ pharmacist whilst taking this supplement.

Magnesium too, is critical for the efficient functioning of the nervous system. This important mineral has been reported as an effective therapy for RLS in a small open-label trial. Many patients report benefits from taking this supplement.