Millions of women spend their nights tossing and turning and go through their days like a zombie, feeling tired, irritable and foggy. To blame? Restless legs syndrome (RLS), a condition marked by an unpleasant urge to move the legs, especially at night. The condition is far more common than experts thought. The good news? A simple mineral can put an end to that restless feeling. Doctors say magnesium is the cure for restless legs.
It’s important to treat the condition, as “RLS can have serious health consequences that many doctors don’t recognize,” points out neurologist David Perlmutter, MD. And it’s not just a matter of poor sleep. Dr. Perlmutter notes that the sleep disruptions it causes can increase the risk of weight gain, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. But doctors often confuse RLS with other conditions such as arthritis, back problems and poor circulation — the reason a Johns Hopkins study determined that only 6% of sufferers receive a diagnosis.
Jeanne, 60, was one of them. For decades, she suffered from restless sleep. She had resigned herself to simply living with the fatigue, fog and sleeplessness — until she discovered the power of magnesium. Read on for her story, then learn why RLS is so common and how to treat it.
Jeanne knew it was more than postmenopausal fatigue
“A few years ago I was hit with a postmenopausal plague,” recalls Jeanne. “I was anxious, irritable and gaining weight. I felt older than my age. But most of all, I was exhausted. From time to time, ever since my late 20s, I’d toss and turn at night, bothered by a strange sensation in my legs that triggered an uncontrollable urge to move. I never really mentioned the symptom to my doctor. I’d lived with it so long, I didn’t think much of it. Plus, I recalled my mother having the same twitchy legs. She too roamed the hallways at night unable to rest.
“Years ago, while I was working as a hairdresser, a woman in my chair started chatting about leg issues. She described my bothersome condition and said it had a name — restless legs syndrome — but she said that it was a mystery and nothing seemed to help it. So I continued to accept this ailment as just a quirk with my body. But as I got older, those disruptive twitches became more intrusive, stealing my sleep and wreaking havoc on my days.
“Honestly, when I was tired, it was hard to make good decisions to take care of myself, let alone anyone else. And people needed me. I was in the ‘sandwich generation’ — stuck between helping my daughter plan a wedding and caring for my dying mother. My stress was next-level. I hated being tired and crabby around the people I loved most.
“Mostly, I didn’t know why I was struggling so much as I aged. I had a great base knowledge of health and nutrition. I’d always follow the latest news and tried the best diets. And still, my energy went completely awry. I started buying every health supplement on the market — organic-this, maca-root-that — but nothing could touch my twitching legs.
“My mind kept searching for answers: Were things worse for me due to an old car accident? Did I eat too many sweets during a family get-together? Did I need medication? Would my lack of sleep lead to degenerative diseases…?”
How Jeanne finally found an answer to her health problems
“Looking in a mirror one day, I felt so horrible, I didn’t even recognize myself. I knew I needed to get myself under control! When I heard health expert JJ Virgin say that Anna Cabeca, DO, was her go-to guru for all things women’s health, I immediately sought her help with my postmenopausal exhaustion. She mentioned that restless leg sufferers tend to be deficient in magnesium, which relaxes muscles. I’d heard that too, and I had even tried a supplement, but my twitches had raged on.”
But Dr. Cabeca explained that the key is getting Magtein magnesium L-threonate, the only form of the mineral proven to cross the blood-brain barrier to help calm the brain as the muscles relax. She recommended a product called Better Brain & Sleep (buy it at DrAnnaCabeca.com, $59.95 for 60 servings) that she’d developed for her own menopause sleep symptoms.
Magnesium worked instantly for Jeanne
“I was so sleep-deprived that I was willing to try anything,” says Jeanne. “So I bought the supplement and took it about 30 minutes before bed. I was stunned — it worked immediately to settle my restless limbs. I could finally sleep and wake up refreshed. My family was in awe of my daytime energy. I never thought I’d get my health back, but this was my ticket to magic postmenopausal sleep. I even lost 37 pounds using Dr. Cabeca’s advice!
“Now every night before I get tucked in next to my husband, he hands me that supplement. He doesn’t want me to suffer from crazy legs ever again. (He sleeps better too now!) Best of all, we are enjoying our retirement, walking the beaches and taking photos of the beautiful Gulf views. I’m about to become a grandmother and I feel younger than ever. But I’m not stopping here. I want to see where my health can go!”
Restless legs is more common than ever
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) impacts up to 7 times more women than previously thought, suggests a recent study. Marked by an urge to move the legs, research indicates RLS is caused by impairments in brain regions that regulate movement. “Since symptoms worsen at night, they can disrupt sleep, triggering fatigue, fog and anxiety,” says neurologist David Perlmutter, MD.
Doctors familiar with RLS can diagnose it based on symptoms. And while drugs that lift dopamine (a chemical messenger that controls muscle activity) are often prescribed, the effects can be fleeting: In 75% of patients, they worsen symptoms within two to three years — a phenomenon known as augmentation. The good news: The natural strategies below can ease RLS.
Taking 200 to 300 mg. of magnesium before bed decreases symptoms by 59%, say German researchers. And opting for magnesium L-threonate, like NOW Foods Magtein Magnesium L-Threonate (buy on Amazon, $23.69 for 90 capsules) may work even better. It has a unique ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and gain access to the brain, where RLS symptoms originate. As always, check with your doctor before supplementing.
Exercise works as well as medication to ease symptoms, according to a study in BMC Neurology. But tough workouts can aggravate symptoms, so sleep expert Michael Breus, PhD, advises easy activities like walking, cycling or swimming. What else can help? Compression socks — but only if you wear them at the right time. (Click though to our sister publication to learn if you can sleep in compression socks).
Interested in more sleep news? Keep reading!
Lisa Maxbauer is an award-winning health and nutrition writer at First for Women and Woman’s World magazines. She is a former guest blogger with The New York Times and author of the award-winning independent children’s book Squash Boom Beet. Learn more at SquashBoomBeet.com and follow on Instagram @lisamaxbauer.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
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