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.


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

Gluten and restless leg syndromeBacterial 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



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Gluten Free Warrior Commentary


9 responses on “Gluten Sensitivity and Restless Leg Syndrome – Is there a connection?

  1. B Urquhart says:

    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.

  2. Colleen Fraser says:

    I have been suffering with RLS FOR APPROX 25yrs. I have no issues with IBS…just RLS. HELP PLS.

  3. Theodore Horner says:

    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.

    • Donna says:

      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.

  4. Cheta says:

    Magnesium helps. I take it and use magnesium spray on muscles all over my body.

    • Linda Ann says:

      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

      • Laura says:

        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. 🙂

  5. Maria says:

    How much should be taken of the three supplements?

  6. Nancy says:

    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.

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