Restless leg syndrome affects millions of people, and seems like a silly and strange diagnosis – almost like a make-believe or phony disorder just to sell more pills or something. If you peruse the internet you will quickly find that the disorder isn’t understood at all. The cause is generally unknown, and any theories about what causes it or will make it go away are fine examples of wild speculation.
I am very excited to report what I think is truly a breakthrough in understanding of the disorder. Even though it may sound well outside the realm of how the scientific community might explain or describe something, and relies on a great deal that is known to me, but not necessarily the modern scientific community, it represents a breakthrough nonetheless.
I can, in myself and in several others that I communicate with, turn restless legs on and off with great reliability. It has everything to do with what I refer to as the “cellular energy concentration.”
Our cells contain fluid that is called intracellular fluid. In that fluid is, for simplicity’s sake, salt and sugar. The concentration of salt and sugar in the intracellular fluid changes based on many different factors. For example, the lower your metabolic rate goes, generally the more difficult it becomes to retain salt. The elderly, who have the lowest metabolic rates and level of cellular metabolic intensity suffer from much higher rates of low salt levels – known as hyponatremia.
HYPERnatremia, or having too much salt in your cells (-emia refers to blood, and blood levels probably only detect abnormalities in extreme circumstances – I say “cells” to loosely refer to what are normal, undetectable fluctuations in these levels throughout the day), just so happens to cause “neuromuscular excitability.”
Because of my interest in raising metabolic rate and keeping the hands and feet warm (a sign of decreased stress hormone production), I have played around with and recommended to others a very helpful trick – which is to increase dietary intake of salt, calories, and carbohydrate in proportion to fluids (from drinks and that naturally found in foods themselves), particularly at the time of day when symptoms of hyponatremia and low metabolism present themselves (different for everyone I find, but a “normal” human being will experience the greatest tendencies to enter this state in the morning – experiencing greater coldness in the extremities, more frequent urination, bad moods including irritability and anxiety, etc.).
Following this step increases the concentration of the intracellular fluid. The result is an increased core temperature, increased warmth of the hands and feet, feeling calm and relaxed, and so forth. However, if you take this too far, it can result in some of the following symptoms: very heavy pulse, an uncomfortable sensation of excess heat in the hands and feet, trouble falling and staying asleep, irritability, headache, and sometimes the triggering of an uncontrollable urge to move your legs in a twitch-like fashion – restless leg syndrome.
What’s even more interesting is that intracellular fluid concentrations seem to follow a 24-hour wave-like pattern. The typical peak in human body temperature and presumably intracellular salt and glucose concentrations is between 6-8pm. The typical trough is 12 hours prior to that. What is fascinating is that the lower you drive it in the morning, the higher it seems to go in the evening. You will note that many intermittent fasters that follow a morning fast/late night binge eating pattern report freezing cold hands and feet all through the day and intense warmth and vascularity in the evening while following such a pattern. And it is, of course, the modern way to eat lightly of smoothies, breakfast cereals, skim milk, juice, and coffee during the day and then eat voraciously of extremely salty, calorie-dense food with a low water content in the late evening – all with very little physical activity. I personally find this to be an amazingly good formula for triggering restless legs.
So, in short, restless leg syndrome seems to be caused, at least in some cases, by mild, undetectable HYPERnatremia for lack of a more official phrase to describe it. I prefer to say that the cellular energy concentrations have become too high – a consequence of taking my general metabolism-stimulating advice to eat more (carbohydrates and salt in particular) and drink less when body temperature is below normal a step too far.
The irony is that letting cellular energy concentrations dive too low seems to create an overcompensation effect later in the day. So, it’s important not to skip meals during the day, drink too many fluids, avoid salt, or eat low calorie-density foods exclusively during that time. By increasing cellular energy concentrations in the morning you can actually prevent them from peaking to aggravating extremes in the evening.
The solution for restless leg syndrome is really quite simple, and something that I am confident would provide relief to a large percentage of sufferers – all without any drug interventions, harsh dietary restrictions, or other nonsense:
- Eat calorie-dense food with lots of salt and a low water content early in the day, rather than late in the day. Later in the day, foods that are high in water content and not so calorie dense – like fruits, vegetables, root vegetables, legumes, soups, and salads are better choices.
- Exercise vigorously – especially later in the day when cellular energy levels reach their peak. This helps burn up some of the glucose and expel some salt via sweat. Although I haven’t played around with it, saunas and things that make you sweat might suffice for those unable to do vigorous exercise for whatever reason.
- Drink more fluids in the afternoon and early evening, particularly water – just not so much to trigger waking with a need to urinate while sleeping, or so much that you trigger frequent or clear urination, which should always be avoided. Early in the day, make sure not to drink so many fluids or eat so much water-rich food (like fruit or smoothies) that frequent or clear urination is triggered.
- Be cautious about consuming too much salt or overeating at dinner time.
Those of you who suffer from restless legs and experience chronic cold feet at night when you are experiencing these episodes, or frequent urination at night, please let me know in the comments section – as this would hint at multiple mechanisms for triggering this disorder.
As of December 1, 2012, you can read a great deal more about the physiological principles alluded to in this post in the book Eat for Heat.