Is RLS a Kind of Inflammation?

In some of my previous blogs I wrote that restless legs sometimes make me think of inflammation. It can feel as if the body is ‘igniting’ in something causing that rotten feeling in the legs.

Not long ago I had a brief email exchange with a fellow sufferer. She told me, among other things, that she wanted to consult an orthomolecular doctor for her restless legs.

This lady also told me that she had found a website that approaches RLS as a form of inflammation. To her his seemed an interesting angle. She was curious what I thought about it.

I was immediately curious and promised her to delve deeper into the subject.  

What is inflammation

Inflammation is usually a reaction of the body to something from the outside. Inflammation often results from an infection. The function of an inflammation is to remove the foreign stimulus or substance.

Sometimes inflammation develops in the body itself.

You can distinguish between an acute and a chronic inflammation. An acute inflammation is over within a few days. Chronic inflammation lasts longer than three months.

An acute inflammation has five characteristics. I also mention the Latin names:

Pain (dolor)

 • Heat (calor)

• Swelling (tumor)

• Redness (rubor)

• Loss of function (laesa function)

In most cases, inflammation will heal on its own. The body fights these with antibodies. Sometimes more is needed and intervention by a doctor is necessary.

Causes of RLS

Earlier I wrote extensively about possible causes of restless legs.

To begin with, there is the distinction between primary and secondary RLS. In primary RLS, the condition has its own self-contained cause. In secondary RLS, the complaints arise from another disease or from a deficiency of a certain substance (e.g. iron).

Doctors suspect that primary RLS has to do with a disturbance in the production of dopamine. Medication is therefore also aimed at influencing the dopamine metabolism.

No cure has yet been found to cure RLS.

Restless legs and inflammation

When I search for articles about the possible connection between inflammation and restless legs, I don’t find a Dutch match. There are English articles though.

In one of the articles I read about three conditions: chronic pain, fibromyalgia and restless legs. All three appear to have pro-inflammatory and neuro-inflammatory processes. Restless legs are, on average, more common in people with chronic pain syndromes.

Disruption of sleep gives a greater sensitivity to (nerve) pain. Less sleep also activates the stress system. This in turn promotes inflammation and can lead to chronic pain and/or depression. A vicious circle.

It seems likely that there is a link between RLS and inflammation or changes in the immune system.

Another article looks at the interaction of musculoskeletal pain, depression and restless legs, respectively. They make someone more vulnerable and reinforce each other in a negative way.

Often the focus of doctors is on depression and (musculoskeletal) pain. The advice in the article is to also check whether the patient has restless legs before diagnosis and treatment.

I read a few more articles that link a few more conditions to restless legs: Parkinson’s disease, MS, ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatism, sleep apnea, and diabetes.

These are all diseases with an inflammatory or (auto)immune component.

Inflammatory bowel syndrome

A subsequent article is about restless legs in irritable bowel syndrome.

This is a condition in which there is inflammation in the intestines.

A few years ago I also had this problem for a while. In hindsight, I think it was my diet. It was a bit one-sided at the time. Back then I didn’t have such a problem with restless legs.

Finally, on the advice of a friend, I took an orthomolecular medicine for a month to rebuild my intestinal flora. It was completely disrupted. The drug worked surprisingly well.

The scientific article I read is about the possible connection between irritable bowel syndrome and restless legs. These two appear to occur quite often together.

The same goes for other intestinal diseases where inflammation plays a major role, such as ulcerative colitis (inflammation of the colon), Crohn’s disease and celiac disease.

Conclusion of the article is that more research is needed to determine exactly what causes it.

Website of fellow sufferer

The website of the fellow sufferer I mentioned at the beginning of this blog focuses on inflammation. Everything related to restless legs is linked to it.

I find two more sites with a similar emphasis.

My first impression is that this is a rather one-sided approach. At the same time, I’m curious so I dive into the matter.

It is not immediately clear to me who owns the website of the fellow sufferer. Maybe I’ll find out while reading.

Lack of iron

Interesting on one of the sites, I find the view that iron deficiency could arise from a form of inflammation in the intestines.

I read that taking an iron supplement often does not solve the problem. In fact, such a supplement can actually make the situation worse.

According to the author of the website, the intestinal inflammation must first be addressed. Only then does it make sense to take any extra iron.

One of the conclusions on that website is that RLS can best be seen as a symptom of something else that is not right. The deeper cause must be identified in order to arrive at a correct treatment.

Inflammation: an explanation for everything?

On another website I read that the website on inflammation associated with restless legs belongs to David Wimble.

This man has suffered from severe RLS for a long time. He firmly believes that inflammation is always the cause of restless legs.

He believes that identifying and treating the specific source of the inflammation per person can reduce the symptoms of RLS. In time, the condition can even completely disappear.

According to him, diet and lifestyle are the way to healing. He sees himself as living proof of this.

8 myths according to Wimble

David Wimble writes on his website that there are 8 well-known myths about RLS. He tries to debunk them all with (chronic) inflammation as an explanation.

# Restless legs are genetic (myth 1)

Wimble indicates that you should see genetic predisposition as a kind of on and off buttons. With relaxation, the right diet and lifestyle you turn off the ‘button’ to inflammation. So in this view you are not stuck with restless legs because of heredity.

# There are two types of RLS: primary RLS and secondary RLS (myth 2)

According to Wimble, there is only one type of restless legs. He claims that all forms of RLS arise from inflammation. To him, restless legs are an indication that something is going wrong in the body. A secondary condition can then develop and is not the cause of restless legs. In both diseases, inflammation is the culprit.

# Iron deficiency is the primary cause of RLS (myth 3)

Wimble thinks that (bowel) inflammation is the cause of a too low iron level in the body. First, the inflammation must be addressed. Only then can work be done on stabilizing the iron level.

# Restless legs stem from an imbalance in dopamine levels (myth 4)

In Wimble’s view, a too low dopamine level is in many cases due to inflammation in the body. First the inflammation must be remedied and only then the dopamine deficiency.

# RLS is a disease (myth 5)

Wimble says that RLS is a signal that there is inflammation in the body and not a disease in itself. Something has to be done about this inflammation. If not, it will get worse. With all its consequences.

# Restless legs are often caused by pregnancy (myth 6)

According to Wimble, inflammation is more common in pregnant women on average. That is why many of them suffer from restless legs. Not because of the pregnancy itself.

# Old age causes restless legs (myth 7)

As far as Wimble is concerned, older people have to deal more with inflammation and therefore with RLS. However, he thinks diet and lifestyle changes can work wonders.

# There is no cure for restless legs (myth 8)

Wimble is convinced that there is a cure for RLS. First you need to find out the source of the chronic inflammation. Then you tackle these with the right diet and lifestyle changes.


I also think that relaxation and adjustments in diet and lifestyle are a good idea and can make a big difference in restless legs.

However, that is not proof that inflammation per se is the main cause of RLS.

On the other hand, I am also practical. If the above interventions help, I don’t care if it was all due to the inflammation or not.

Finding the exact cause of disorders seems to me to be a difficult matter anyway. The body is a complex machine in which body and mind interact.

I am less enthusiastic about the enormous amounts of vitamin supplements and herbal preparations that Wimble proposes. I also take a few of them myself, but not quite as many as he indicates.

My final conclusion is: try some things out and see if it works for you.

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