LEG CRAMPS, MUSCLE CRAMPS AND TWITCHES, AND RESTLESS LEG
by Lawrence Wilson, MD
© January 2010, The Center for Development
Muscle cramps, muscle spasms, twitches, and restless leg syndrome, as well as related conditions such as muscle tightness and even spinal misalignment, often occur due to nutritional imbalances. These are common conditions and, at times, can become chronic and severe enough to cause significant impairment and disability.
CALCIUM AND MAGNESIUM
The most common imbalance seen with these conditions is a deficiency of bioavailable calcium and/or magnesium at the tissue level. This may be due to simply a deficiency state or the condition we call biounavailable calcium and magnesium.
An acute deficiency state occurs in fast oxidizers. It also may occur in those who just do not eat enough bioavailable calcium and magnesium. This includes most people. The main problems today are that:
1. Pasteurized and homogenized dairy products are not good sources of bioavailable calcium, in particular.
2. Most diets are very deficient in good quality magnesium.
3. Refining grains and other products removes most magnesium and some calcium.
4. Raw foods are not good sources because many people cannot absorb enough mineral from them. The exception here is certified raw dairy products, which are excellent or at least good sources of bioavailable calcium and some magnesium.
5. Other sources are not quite as good, such as nuts, seeds, grains and others.
As a result, most people are not getting enough. I recommend for everyone the following excellent sources of calcium and magnesium:
1. Stop eating anti-calcium and anti-magnesium foods. These include all sugars and sweets, all alcoholic beverages, all refined grains, stimulants such as MSG, apartame, and even most caffeinated products, and all soda pop, which can actually remove calcium and magnesium from the body. Phosphoric acid found in most soda pop binds to calcium, magnesium, zinc and other minerals in the stomach and intestine and removes them from the body.
2. Rest more and take some kelp. Rest and sleep help many problems. Kelp is an inexpensive, safe and excellent mineral supplement for most people. Reduce the amount if it makes you jittery. It is best for slow oxidizers, but fast oxidizers can often take a little as well. It is not a high quality source of calcium an magnesium, but it can help with general mineral metabolism.
3. Have some raw certified dairy such as milk, cheeses and yogurt daily, assuming you tolerate it well and can find it. It is available through the internet if no other sources are possible. Often you can find a local farmer who will supply preferably goat milk or good quality cows milk that has not been pasteurized and homogenized. Raw cream is also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
4. 10-12 ounces daily of preferably fresh carrot juice is excellent for most everyone. Do not add fruit to the juice. You may add some greens such as spinach leaves, Swiss chard leaves or others. Do not use a Vita-Mix or a blender. Use a real juicer, such as a Champion or another.
5. Most everyone can use a calcium/magnesium supplement, especially if you are having muscle cramps, restless leg syndrome, muscle tightness or excessive nervous tension.
6. If these suggestions are not adequate to clear up the problem, or for a more thorough approach, a nutritional balancing program will often identify lead toxicity, other mineral imbalances, or other types of health problems that may be causing your muscle cramps and other symptoms.
Now let us discuss this issue in relation to the oxidation types.
In this situation, adrenal and thyroid glandular activity are diminished due to continued or extreme stress from a poor diet, fatigue or other causes, resulting in nutritional depletion and/or damage to the glands. This is most common today. Psychological or emotional stress can also play a leading role in some cases.
Reduced adrenal activity in particular reduces soft tissue sodium levels and at times blood sodium, causing calcium to precipitate out of the blood and deposit in the soft tissues such as the hair, joints, arteries and others. This results in an elevated hair tissue calcium reading.
An elevated hair calcium level does not mean that one has too much calcium or magnesium in the body as a whole. It means that calcium is precipitating into the soft tissues because it is biologically unavailable, often due to low sodium and potassium levels. Sodium is needed in particular to keep calcium in a soluble, or ionic state.
Although a hair mineral analysis indicates an elevated calcium and magnesium level in a slow oxidizer, the person may experience leg cramps and restless syndromes because, in fact, the calcium and in some cases magnesium are not biologically available. Supplemental available calcium and magnesium are often helpful until such time as the bodyÕs own mechanisms for availability can be corrected by improving the sodium level. This requires improving adrenal glandular activity, and in most cases removing excess copper and other metals that have become excessive or toxic.
Most slow oxidizers also have some lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury, at the very least. These replace some calcium in enzyme binding sites, and perhaps some magnesium as well. In this case, just taking calcium and magnesium will not be enough to displace or remove the toxic metals so that the enzymes will work properly. One must then follow an entire nutritional balancing program to remove the toxic metals so that the essential or preferred minerals, calcium and magnesium, can be replenished wherever they are needed.
We do not recommend chelation therapy to remove toxic metals, although it may work. It is less safe, often more costly and can unbalance body chemistry even more because it always removes some vital minerals with the toxic ones. The drugs can also be toxic as well. We find it unnecessary and not as effective in the long run as a gentle nutritional balancing program based on hair mineral analysis that has been done properly and interpreted correctly as well. For more on this topic read Introduction To Hair Mineral Analysis and other articles on this website.
In some cases, deficiency occurs due to a protracted state sympathetic nervous system activity, at times called the fight-or-flight response. The body excretes calcium and magnesium to place the body in a heightened state of alertness during the fight-or-flight response. If this state occurs for only a short time, the minerals are replaced from the diet and the calcium and magnesium levels resume normal levels.
However, if a fight-or-flight response occurs for a prolonged period, even for a few weeks, and often it is for much longer during childhood or a stressful adult trauma, then the body is unable to replenish its calcium and magnesium reserves.
This chronic stress situation results in what we call a state of fast oxidation. It is characterized by chronically low levels of calcium and magnesium, along with deficiencies of zinc and copper. At this point, extra supplements of calcium and magnesium are needed to help replenish depleted levels of these minerals.
Also, extra copper, zinc and at times other nutrients such as choline, inositol, and vitamins A and D in particular, are needed to reverse the condition we call fast oxidation. Note that other nutritional authorities may define fast oxidation differently.
A complication that occurs with fast oxidation and calcium deficiency in particular is that toxic metals may be absorbed that replace calcium in ion binding sites and enzyme binding sites throughout the body. These toxic metals include lead, cadmium, arsenic and aluminum. Others include less biologically available forms of iron, manganese, copper or other physiological minerals that can be converted to forms that are not readily usable by the body.
At times leg cramps or restless leg syndrome can be due to a need for potassium. This may occur in both slow and fast oxidizers. Slow oxidizers may lose potassium in the urine, along with losing sodium due to low aldosterone levels. Other kidney imbalances involving rennin regulation can also cause this type of imbalance. The hair potassium level may be very low such as 1 or 2 mg%, although the person ingests or supplements with potassium.
Fast oxidizers may lose potassium due to tissue breakdown or catabolism. In cases of fast oxidation, the hair tissue potassium may be very elevated above the ideal level of 10 mg%. A potassium supplement may give relief in these cases. However, to correct the causes of a potassium imbalance usually requires an improved diet as well as a nutritional balancing program to restore biochemical balance. If one eats plenty of cooked vegetables, not raw ones, and drinks 10-12 ounces of carrot juice daily, this will also supply a great deal of potassium and should more than take care of most peopleÕs needs without a supplement.
MAGNESIUM DEFICIENCY AND EXERCISE
Muscle cramps that occur only during or immediately after exercising may be due to a short-term magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is deficient in most diets. It is found in whole grains, nuts, some meats and vegetables. Most people do not eat enough of these foods on a daily basis to supply optimum magnesium intake.
Exercise is a powerful sympathetic nervous system stimulant that can deplete magnesium stores at a time when magnesium is vitally needed for muscle function, especially muscle relaxation. Hence, cramping occurs during or soon after exercise when magnesium is low in the tissues. Supplementing the diet with magnesium or preferably improving the diet usually solves this type of muscle cramping problem.
ALCOHOL AND MAGNESIUM LOSS
Drinking alcohol also depletes magnesium, along with zinc and B-complex vitamins. When the diet is marginal, as it is in most cases, adding a few alcoholic drinks even once or twice weekly, can bring on symptoms of magnesium deficiency which may include leg cramps, restless leg syndrome, twitches and others.
CIRCULATION, CRAMPS AND RESTLESS LEGS
Impaired circulation is another possible cause for muscle tightness, muscle cramps and restless leg syndrome. Causes include:
á Diabetes is associated with arteriosclerosis.
á Arteriosclerosis from other causes such as toxic metals.
á Pregnancy can cause problems if the fetus lays on the arteries or veins leading to the legs.
á A sedentary lifestyle or even sitting or lying too long in one position.
á Poor posture, and/or shallow breathing, possibly.
á Problems at night may be due to oneÕs mattress that is either too hard or too soft and is cutting off circulation to the legs or arms.
á Rarely, excessive sympathetic muscle tone can cause arterial constriction and contribute to muscle tightness.
Diabetes or arteriosclerosis due to other causes usually require a long-term lifestyle and nutritional balancing program for correction. Other causes can often be corrected more easily.
I do not like to use symptomatic remedies as they often obscure or at least do not address deeper causes of symptoms that may signal important imbalances in the body. However, at times they are useful, especially in conjunction with a complete nutritional balancing program. A few of these are:
Massage and foot reflexology are occasionally very helpful.
Chiropractic and Rolfing or structural integration are also occasionally needed. They are not really symptomatic approaches if they address deeper causes, which they may be able to do.
Take a digestive aid to help absorb more minerals from your food. Also, observe very healthful eating habits such as sitting at meals, eating slowly, chewing thoroughly each mouthful and resting after meals. This is not exactly symptomatic either.
Vitamin E, about 800-1200 iu per day of natural vitamin E mixed tocopherols, preferably.
Calcium, magnesium or potassium supplements, as discussed above. Sadly, many calcium supplements donÕt work well. Be sure to pick a good brand and try a different brand if the one you are using is not working.
Occasionally, herbal remedies or homeopathics at the health food store are helpful. Medical doctors use quinine preparations for some cramps, but this is quite toxic if used for any length of time, so I would avoid it.
LESS UNDERSTOOD CAUSES
Food sensitivity can cause many symptoms. Among them are cramps and even restless leg syndrome. One should consider noting whether cramps or restless leg syndrome occurs after consuming a particular food or food additive. Food allergy testing may be helpful in some cases.
Leg cramps or restless leg syndrome have occurred if a person is sleeping on the lower bunk of a double level bunk-type of bed. It is best not to sleep underneath another in a bunk bed in these cases, especially when the beds are at a 90-degree angle one to the other.