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Gluten Sensitivity and Restless Leg Syndrome – Is there a connection?

Bad Bacteria = Restless Legs

Restless leg syndrome is a serious medical condition. It is thought to be an autoimmune disease affecting the nerves in the legs. This condition is characterized by feeling of restlessness in the legs. It can also manifest as numbness and tingling, and shooting nerve pains in the legs making it extremely difficult to sleep at night. The condition is commonly associated with patients who also suffer with depression. A recent study published in the journal Sleep Medicine investigated whether or not patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and bacterial overgrowth developed RLS.
CONCLUSIONS: IBS and SIBO are common in RLS. Three hypotheses developed are (a) RLS patients are selectively immunocompromised or genetically predisposed and thus more subject to SIBO; (b) SIBO leads to autoimmune changes, and subsequent auto-antibodies attack brain and/or peripheral nerves and (c) SIBO inflammation leads to increased hepcidin and CNS iron deficiency which, in turn, leads to RLS. These hypotheses bear further investigation.
Source: Sleep Med. 2011 Jun;12(6):610-3.

Gluten Sensitivity, RLS, and SIBO are all Connected…

Research studies have linked gluten ingestion to changes in small intestinal bacteria. These changes can cause a variety of symptoms to occur. Most commonly patients will experience:
  • gas and bloating
  • abdominal pain
  • intermittent diarrhea and constipation
  • acid reflux
  • bad breath
Bacterial overgrowth can also lead to changes in digestion, vitamin and mineral absorption, and intestinal permeability (AKA – leaky gut syndrome). If you look at the diagram , you can see how gluten ingestion can lead to a variety of physiological changes that create disease.

What You Should Do If You Have Restless Leg Syndrome…

I have treated thousands of patients with gluten issues. Many of them have also had RLS symptoms that resolved on a gluten free diet. If you haven’t done so already, it is recommended that you get tested for gluten sensitivity or go gluten free. You can take our self test here<<< or you can get genetically tested for the most accurate diagnosis. Once established, the following list of action items is recommended:
  • Have you doctor check for bacterial overgrowth, additional food allergies, as well as vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
  • If you cannot get your doctor to help you, consider a functional medicine doctor.
  • If you cannot find a functional medicine doctor consider supplementing with the following:
  1. Methylcobalamin (a special form of vitamin B-12 shown to reduce restless leg symptoms)
  2. Methyl Folic Acid (a special form of Folate)
  3. Biotic Defense (a strong probiotic designed to restore the healthy bacteria in your intestines.
**When you supplement, make sure that what you are taking does not contain hidden gluten fillers. If you know someone with RLS, please make sure to pass this article along. In other words, don’t be selfish with the knowledge 🙂 All the best, Dr. O  

23 Responses

  1. As I travel internationally, I have to be sure to avoid gluten on planes – the agony of trying to relax on an aircraft with RLS is a form of torture ! I have told many people in different countries about the link with gluten and they seem surprised and pleased to learn the connection….and how to correct the problem.

    Another interesting find, is that people who stop eating gluten also stop snoring ! Considering sleep apnoea can be life-threatening, this is undoubtedly a very useful discovery.

    1. Me as well. But it worsened in the last 2-3 years. I have been trying to find a connection with why is it, that every once in a while, I go to bed without RLS! 3 weeks ago I was home for 2 days and did not take my truck to work and back. Slept well! So I wondered if it was the vibrations of the large engine. Nope. Then Monday something happened. I always have sugar free breath mints in my truck. Chewing on something keeps me awake and because of RLS, I have trouble falling asleep while driving! As usual, I popped about 6-8 mints in my mouth while driving for 2 hours. Then for the first time, the RLS started while I was driving!!! My legs were going nuts! It was only 11 am and I had not eaten anything up to then. So I threw my mints in the back. Had none for the rest of the day. I usually have some on my way home. That night, I had NO RLS. Next day, no mints. No RLS last night! I’m laying here right now and my legs are relaxed. They say that sugar is a problem. Well for me it is a FAKE sugar. Try it. Eliminate all sugars especially fake sugars and see. Hopefully it will work for you.

  2. Vitamin E helps me a lot. If I get plenty of vitamin E, as a supplement, it helps to keep the symptoms at bay. Also it can help with an attack, and it seems to work within hours. 800 IU. The Alpha Tocopherol form seems to work best, Gamma E not so good.

    1. I would suggest some of the support groups around the internet, espeically on Facebook. They seem to be only interested in the gluten issue here, obviously, and if it were this easy I would not have groups with over 6,000 people who are struggling every day. Been hearing about this for the last 20 years, and I hope you have found some help since you left this reply. RLS is progressive and it gets worse with age.

    2. Thank you qll for sharing for the gluten free and RLS. I have SEVEVE Tremors in my legs when i walk its so hard w ADLs when i sit i have relief. At least i can drive. I got better once for 2 months and. Its been 1yr and a half. Since i got better.April and May June. It came back in June and i have been struggling for 7 months i have been trying sooo much w exercise and eating w and w vitamins ect…I AM TRYING SOOOO HARD PLEASE HELP..BTW I ALSO AM TAKING GLUTEN CLUTTER TO TRY TO HELP ME GET BETTER..PLEASE HELP ME …THANKS YOU!!!

    1. I have had RLS for the last 15 years, have some food allergies, and have tried to be gluten free. I found out recently that I am allergic to ALL herbs in the Lamiaceae (mint family) not sure that is the proper spelling. My RLS does not get better being GF. Some other issues have cleared from being GF but not the leg issue. Can I be gluten sensitive and have a bad allergy to all herbs in the mint family? It doesn’t make sense to me. Any insight for me? Thank you, Linda

      1. You said you’ve “tried to be gluten free”. If you aren’t really strict the affects of the gluten you are ingesting can linger for a few weeks. Since gluten causes a leaky gut it makes sense that you would have food sensitivies. Now it’s time to heal your gut if you haven’t already started doing that. 🙂

  3. I have RLS symptoms after eating foods containing paprika or chili powder. There is evidence that having sex/orgasm can often give relief to RLS symptoms. This is not a joke. It has helped me personally. I advise go ogling it if you’re skeptical.

  4. I am an RLS support group leader. RLS has to deal with the brain and that’s all. Our nerves are a-okay but the brain is where is the disease problem Begins. The transmission is not getting through to relax the nerves that are attached to our muscles when we rest. The only help right now is a prescribed pain medication. This is directly from the RLS Foundation. They are working very hard to find a cure

    1. Mary,
      You should share this post with your group and apply the information yourself. It will be faster and more effective than waiting on a cure.
      All the best,
      Dr. O

    2. I take topi étole for restless legs and it has augmented to the point where I took 2.5 milligrams. After going gluten, sugar, and alcohol free I am down to 1.5 milligrams. It happened without me trying to cut back. There must be a sugar connection that at least aggravates it.

    3. Mary – the Gut-Brain Connection is significant. There is a ton of research on the subject. I have been on RLS meds for YEARS. I did not have IBS-type symptoms, just heartburn. When I got rid of the SIBO, eliminated gluten (I’m allergic to wheat), and other inflammatory foods like SUGAR among others, I healed my leaky gut and viola! RLS symptoms went away. I’m now off all meds for RLS, heartburn, cholesterol, BP, and my Rheumatoid Arthritis #s are dropping steadily. Conventional medicine’s answer to health is drugs, which is fine as a last resort. By focusing on what you eat/don’t eat, eliminating toxins (such as air quality, water quality, pesticides & other chemicals like plastics), you allow your body to heal itself. I didn[t believe it myself until I did the research and tried it. As a long-time RLS sufferer, I’m so grateful for the relief. It’s worth the effort to look into it. Just know that most conventional MD’s, including my own (now former), won’t buy it. Why? Because they get next to nothing in nutritional training in medical school. I’m not telling anyone what to do – it’s your choice, but what I have learned the most is that conventional medicine and what you hear in advertising is not the only answer. It’s worth the effort.

  5. I have a lot of food sensitivities, eat super clean, no gluten, no sugar, corn, pasta, rice, etc. I couldn’t figure out why after eating a steak on the grill I had the worst night of RLS, the only thing my friend put on the steaks that night was dadadaduh . . . paprika!! I’m sorry you experience this, but it is strangely comforting to know at least one other person has also had the same trigger. Still trying to rid myself of the foot and toe cramps. I am narrowing it down, but boy it can be a real puzzle. If you are a nut eater, try eliminating nuts. Always such a guessing game trying to figure out what I ate that triggered this, that, or the other thing!

    1. I’m pretty sure paprika is a nightshade – nightshade foods are known to aggrevate autoimmune conditions and RLS is suspected to be one.

  6. RLS is my predominant indication that I’ve been ‘glutened’. Within days of dumping wheat/gluten 10 years ago my RLS (& IBS) packed it’s bags & left. That and the IBS had been my constant companion for years. I believe the highly processed, nutrient-stripped wheat flour sets up serious deficiencies in the body. Weirdly, I can consume the highly nutritious wheatgerm without any issues at all, but can’t touch the flour with a barge pole. Because most commercial wheat flour has been stripped of the nutrient power pack, the germ, to preserve shelf life (& profit) I am convinced that is why so many have issues with it. In the days when your flour was freshly whole-ground by a local miller on a regular basis it was probably an excellent food, but when commercial factors got hold of it by the 1900s it was a vastly inferior product, stripped of its powerhouse and consequently very hard for us to process. Traditional Slow-rise preparation makes a big difference too. My Hub, who has serious neuro issues with gluten, can eat my slow-rise bread with no problems at all, & the addition of wheatgerm makes it an amazing food. But commercial factors have ruined that ancient wisdom too, turning it into ‘empty calorie’, fast-tracked, highly damaging garbage.

  7. I had been off gluten for years and tried it out after assuming I had healed all leaky gut issues, and a vaccine injury. After one month of eating sourdough here and there, I started having RLS, and tensing of the arms, I am not sure if there is a different name for that. It took about a week without the gluten for the RLS to be 100% gone, and about a month to stop the arm tensing. I still feel a little bit tenser than I was before this failed experiment. I had none of the stomach aches that I had before. It also trashed my thyroid which I had healed from autoimmune issues and hypothyroid. I want everyone to read that message from the support group Mary to know that she is not speaking the truth. Maybe she believes that, but she cannot state that as fact, because my truth was lived. Also, I had stopped teeth clenching years ago when I first stopped gluten, but diid not have the neuro issues. Yes, it’s a brain issue, a blood/brain barrier crossed by gluten and/or glyphosate that got into our brains. Are there old medical journals that describe anyone having Restless Legs? This is a modern, probably man made disease. It has something to do with the opioid receptors.

  8. It is not about only gluten. It is all grains. It releases insulin that is a huger hormone. Only animals that eat grass are “fat”. And, monkeys don’t eat grass! The instructions of nature are very simple. Don’t eat grains. But, wheat is the worst amongst all the grains.

  9. I found a Dr in Grand Rapids,Mii that finally put me on Lyrica(Pregablin) and my RLS is completely gone.
    I started a gluten free diet abou 6 weeks ago and have had very few stomach issues. Right now I am having Excema problems and I am on a new Med for that. The Dr said it would take several weeks for it to begin working.
    Gluten caused severe stomach pains. It would take several hours to calm it down .

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