With international Restless Legs Syndrome Awareness Day upon us, it’s worth taking a look into some of the causes – and one in particular may come as a surprise. We’re talking about sugar here – this addictive stuff isn’t just spiking our risk for obesity and heart disease, but it also puts this common ailment on the map.
5% of Aussies live with a distressing condition that can make sleeping a nightmare – pun intended. It’s a grossly understudied syndrome which can shred a patient’s quality of life – picture this: you’re exhausted and just about ready to crash, you’ve slipped under the covers, set your alarm and are just beginning to drift off when you’re hit with a shot of adrenaline and an insatiable urge to move your legs around. For many restless leg sufferers, a good night’s sleep is a pipe dream. Let’s take a look into what actually defines this condition.
What is restless legs syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome is characterised by the following:
- An intense and sometimes irresistible urge to move your legs
- An uncomfortable sensation may come with the urge
- The symptoms worsen when sitting, lying down or resting
- Your symptoms may improve with physical activity – but only temporarily
- The urge increases around night time
- There is no other medical explanation for the symptoms
Take a look at some of the known causes of restless legs syndrome:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Lack of exercise
- Obesity and being overweight
- Peripheral neuropathy
While sugar consumption hasn’t been directly linked with restless legs syndrome yet, there is anecdotal research to indicate its culpability. Plus, there are a few indirect ways added sugar consumption can lead to the condition. For one, being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for restless legs syndrome – and what do we know about sugar? Excess consumption can lead to obesity. More specifically, consumption of added sugars. Here’s how: fructose can only be metabolised by the liver, so if you eat a lot of fructose – specifically the kind that is added to low-fibre, highly-processed products – the liver gets overwhelmed, which can then lead to the development of visceral fat. This is the bad kind of fat which wraps around the organs and can lead not only to obesity, but also diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is projected to become the become the leading cause of cirrhosis in the next 10 years. So there’s more than one reason to steer clear of the sweet stuff!
Another way sugar can indirectly cause restless leg syndrome is through its inhibitory effect on magnesium. This mineral helps regulate a range of our functions, and without it our risk for this syndrome skyrockets – and this is particularly due to magnesium’s effect on our nerve function. After all, restless leg syndrome can be caused by low dopamine levels, which create those involuntary movements and spasms, and it’s the nerve damage that can cause the reduced dopamine levels – this is why we need adequate magnesium levels to keep our nerve function in check. Magnesium is responsible for the following:
- Muscle and nerve function
- Blood pressure regulation
- Blood sugar control
Peripheral neuropathy is another one of the risk factors for restless leg syndrome – it’s actually a secondary cause of the condition and is characterised by damaged nerves around the brain and spinal cord. It can cause numbness and pain, often in the feet and hands. And what can cause peripheral neuropathy? Diabetes. Do you see where we’re going with this? That’s right – it all comes back around to sugar. Excess sugar imbalances our blood sugar levels and impairs insulin function, which can then cause type 2 diabetes. This is a metabolic condition affecting 8.5% of adults around the globe, which causes millions of deaths every year. By making a few lifestyle changes – including diet and exercise, studies show you can greatly reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, and thereby reduce the risk for peripheral neuropathy and restless legs syndrome.
What to eat instead
High magnesium foods: For proper nerve function and to reduce your risk for obesity and diabetes, you’ll want to load up on this nutrient. Look for it in the following foods:
- Dark chocolate
- Chia seeds
Whole foods: Ditch the highly-processed stuff – chances are, they’re loaded with added sugars and preservatives which increase your risk for obesity. Go for foods like fruits and veggies, seeds and nuts, legumes, eggs and minimally-processed dairy.
Leafy greens: These veggies are rich in B vitamins, which are essential for nerve regeneration – this in turn keeps our dopamine levels up, thereby reducing our risk for restless leg syndrome. The alpha-lipoic acid in these greens are also nerve protectors which prevent damage. Load up on the following:
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Mustard greens
Keen for more health and nutrition tips? We’re here to help. Join us for the 8-Week Program where we’ll be quitting sugar and turning our health dreams into a reality. When you sign up with us, you’ll have access to clear-cut meal plans, community support and exclusive access to our sugar-free content. Here’s what’s on offer:
- 8 weeks of meal plans and shopping lists.
- 90+ member-only recipes.
- Community forums to share your journey.
- Support and guidance from the I Quit Sugar team.
- Exclusive content from our panel of experts.
So, if you’re ready to ditch sugar and the host of maladies that come with it, it’s not too late to JOIN NOW!