Dairy-Free for Restless Leg Syndrome

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Joan ~ I have been reading your wonderful “Go Dairy Free” book, which I was able to get from our library. I have been dairy free for about 6 years for a rather unusual reason which is never mentioned in the other books I have read….or on any web site.

Back in 2007 when I was desperately looking for help with my Restless Leg Syndrome. I looked on the internet and discovered a site called “End Restless Legs Forever”. I did spend $29 to get the information offered on that website. Can you believe, the man’s claim is that the casein in milk is the culprit. I thought it was worth a try, and I did discover that eliminating all dairy products really keeps the restless legs at bay.

My family hates the inconvenience I endure with the special diet….but it is far better than the awful suffering from restless legs. I thought you might be interested in this, and also wonder if you have ever heard of it.

Yes, Joan. I have yet to find a study on dairy consumption and RLS, but have heard personal stories from two other people that dairy-free helped to resolve their condition. ~ Alisa Fleming

About Author

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, Senior Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

30 Comments

  1. Gail Corondoni on

    It’s 1 am, another exhausting night with aching, twitching knees and crazy dancing toes! It’s driving me nuts! My legs have become my enemies! But hopefully, but after reading other comments perhaps I won’t have to continue to dope myself up with aspirin, neurontin, clonazepam and slather aspercream, stinky muscle rubs, magnesium oil and blue emu all over my poor legs every night!

    I do love dairy, especially Oikos Greek yogurt, milk, International Delight French Vanilla “non dairy” creamer, and parmesan cheese on my salads every day. I knew it was inflammatory, but I take a digestive enzyme which has helped with digestion, but I never got the connection with RLS until now.

    I recently just gave up chocolate, which was too much of a temptation for me. I thought maybe that was the culprit, but no relief.

    So, I guess I’m going to have to bite the bullet as this has become INTOLERABLE. This wacko sleep deprivation reminds me of the times after my children were born and I felt like a walking Zombie for months until they slept through the night!

    I hope and pray desperately that this helps! My poor husband has just about had it with me, and so have I!
    I’m 67 years old, walk and exercise every day, eat lots of fruit and veggies, take good supplements, and try so hard to be healthy, but I was getting ridiculously discouraged. I guess it’s never too late to learn something new……

    Thank you all for sharing your struggles and encouraging comments. I pray this will help me, too! God Bless!

    • Hi Gail, I’m so sorry to hear about what you are going through! The good news is, there are tons of dairy-free chocolate options – good dark chocolate should actually be naturally dairy-free! So if chocolate specifically isn’t a problem for you, you can still enjoy it on a dairy-free diet.

      As for trialing dairy-free, it may seem difficult at first, but it is usually much easier than people think, especially once you get started. Because you do have such a strong reason, I recommend that you check out this post, and really focus on step #1: http://www.godairyfree.org/news/nutrition-headlines/six-simple-steps-to-successfully-going-dairy-free-or-gluten-free-for-good – I think it will help you quite a bit with the mental hurdle! The other steps can make the transition easier. I hope that you do find relief!

    • Hi there,
      I have had Restless legs for years. I had also noticed that if I took a hot bath or any muscle relaxant it got aggravated. 2 years ago I was up as usual at 1:00 AM and it was bad. I went to the bath room and open the cold water and let it fall on my right leg and right hand. The water was below room temperature. I came back and slept . Some how the cold water stopped it. I have been using it on and off. Sometimes every day and sometimes once every week when RLS affects me. It is a small nuisance to get up at 1:00 Am when you are affected by RLS but a 30 second cold water on the leg (or) hand stops it. Then the sleep is good. I don’t know if others have felt this but this works for me.

  2. I just wanted to add my own life-long – and all too real and painful – experience with casein and citric acid.

    I was medically diagnosed with “milk allergy” as a child. I could not tolerate cow’s milk, not even be breast-fed without developing colic, explosive diarrhea, red blotches on my skin, constant crying, etc. (according to my parents). An apparently wise doctor (a “cutting-edge” expert, I now believe) prescribed a synthetic nutritional formula for me until I was a toddler, and my excruciating symptoms disappeared. The formulation (which I still have on record) had minimal casein and no soy protein – but additional lactose! But throughout my childhood and teenage, every time I drank cow’s milk (even goat’s milk) or especially if I ate cheese from any source, I would develop fierce hayfever-like symptoms (profusely watering, burning eyes, long chain-sneezing spells, sore throats) and worst of all, overall body aches, particularly great pain in my lower legs.

    Later in life I was diagnosed with chronic fibromyalgia, but a specific cause was never determined. I just learned through repeated experience that every time I consumed a significant amount of any dairy, particularly whole milk or strong cheeses (cheddar the worst, mozzarella less so), or citrus fruit, I hurt like HELL, and I could not sleep from the great pain – and any mild seasonal allergies suddenly became severe.

    At my local health food store, I recently discovered a “milk/lactose free” cheese! It is made from almonds and various other ingredients. As I LOVE cheese (don’t we always love the foods we’re most sensitive to?), I started using it on all my food – wraps, burritos, stews, etc. But a few days later, I started to develop restless legs at night (which I had not had since I was a child), and then it turned into whole body aching that made sleep totally impossible. I got out of bed every morning aching and totally exhausted. Inspecting the list of ingredients on the “milk-free” cheese label, I finally noticed “casein” as one of the main ingredients. It was asterisked below as “a milk protein”! I was simultaneously using a “milk-free” coffee creamer instead of my usualy coconut or rice-based creamers…but this tastier “milk-free” creamer ALSO contains CASEIN!!

    All I could conclude was that casein was apparently causing severe inflammation all over my body, most painfully in my legs, for as soon as I stopped consuming this so-called “milk-free” almond cheese, my body aches soon ceased (with the help of meloxicam, a powerful anti-inflammatory with troubling risky side-effects, but which gave me my first night of deep, restful sleep in ages). There is another brand without casein, but it contains citric acid, which also causes painful reactions (I cannot eat ANY citrus fruit without strong histamine reactions and fibromyalgia). So there’s still no cheese “alternative” out there for me.

    One final note, soy, particularly soy milk, causes me to have total insomnia without the pain associated with the casein and citric acid! After couple of glasses of soy milk, I am guaranteed to stay awake all night, regardless of how tired I am. I have no idea why this insomnia occurs – it must be yet another protein that my body cannot metabolize correctly. NB: I have no problem with soy OIL, just something in soy proteins.

    • Hi Dave,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story Dave. Yes, sounds like you were tricked by Lisanatti almond cheese, it happens a lot! There are many dairy-free cheese alternatives now, just look for “vegan” on the label. Also, products labeled non-dairy can have up to .5% milk in them – usually in the form of casein. You may see this most with non-dairy creamers and non-dairy whipped toppings. I hope this doesn’t happen to you again, as the pain sounds not worth it in the least! I know that your story will help many others, and I’m so happy that you have found the solution to your problem.

  3. I have battled restless leg syndrome for years. I had to take exttra magnesium before bed and if i forgot it then i would have bad leg cramps. Now that i have been off dairy for two months i don’t need magnesium anymore. Wow! Then i came a cross this article. Who knew! My eczema is also going away bc of no dairy, that is why i originally tried dairy free. I am hoping to find some stories about going dairy free and improvement in eczema for people. I have eczema on my eyelids, scalp, elbows. Any success. It hasn’t completely gone away yet. What else should i eliminate to speed up the healing?

    • I feel for you Melissa but am so glad the dairy-free diet is helping with your RLS and eczema! Yes, I’ve received numerous reports from people who have seen their eczema improve or disappear with a dairy-free diet, and there actually is research on it now, too. In a few sizable studies, food was linked as a strong trigger of eczema, with milk leading the pack. That said, if you have any other dietary triggers, it could be personal to you. As someone who has had eczema and lives with autoimmune disease, I can tell you that added sugars aggravate my skin (not an allergy, but makes it a more hostile environment I think) and you may also have external factors (dampness also aggravates for me).

  4. Kathy Lambert on

    This information changed my life! As long as I avoid dairy, artificial sweetners and some allergy meds, my RLS is so much better! Thank you so much!

      • Hi
        I have also recently found that milk products will trigger my RLS, and cutting down/eliminating has had a profound effect. I am wondering whether it is the lactose or the protein (Casein). If the former, lactose free products will be great, otherwise its dailry free. I guess I will have to experiment! My RLS went from occasionall, to every night in the last few months. The only thing I could think was it was connected with me increasing weight training to 3 times a week. Then I thought about my diet and realised that I had been drinking much more milk for protein to support my training. I hope others will try going dairy free.

        • Hi Shaun, it is very unlikely that lactose would be the culprit as it is just a hard to digest sugar. Milk protein is tied to the most symptoms in studies due to the various type of allergenic reactions they are discovering. But let us know your findings!

  5. I found your website looking for a connection as I have been dealing without a lot of different issues, with RLS being one of them. It’s not too frequent but sure is bad when it happens. I have been very careful with my diet the last few weeks and have had no issues, but yesterday, the only thing I ate not approved was cheese, and last night was not good. I haven’t typically seen dairy as a culprit, but I believe it is now. Seems like this would be helpful to a lot of people to know.

    • Indeed! I grew up with RLS and didn’t know it was causing my symptoms until I was older. This is definitely a topic I plan to get the word out about. Thanks for sharing your success Cyndi!

  6. Wendy Robinson on

    Thank u for this reassuring information. I’ve been dairy free for 5 years and rls only sneaks up on me when I mistakenly ingest milk products. I read labels carefully and have charted my episodes for over a year. Also tomatoe and beef will bring on rls for me. Staying clear of these foods has eliminated rls and a lot of inflammation. Its the 1st of the year 2015 and I finally found information backing up my claim! I’m looking forward to showing my family! Happy New Year!

  7. I caught a bug and ended up with sinositus. As a result I went off eating and kept my diet simple (BRAT). But I found a “bi-product” was an absence of RLS and the terrible fibromyalgia pains I’d be suffering. I wondered if it could be dairy as I love cheese? While I have not completely eliminated dairy from my diet, (milk in tea and coffee) I have drastically reduced it and three weeks later have noticed the health benefits.

  8. Betsy Phillips on

    Well, Alisa, it’s official. I’m convinced cheese is the culprit. I said I’d get back to you in two weeks, but just at that mark I had a mild restless-leg night, and I was bracing to be disappointed again. But that was it! One uncomfortable night in 6 weeks. (Maybe I had dairy in some disguised form, or it was residual toxins.) I have spent so many years trying to figure this out. I’ve taken Requip, quit caffeine and sugar, taken magnesium (even rubbing it on my legs), gone to a chiropractor who was sure he could help me, and slept with a bar of soap at my feet. Thank you so much for this blog. I hope many other people will find you like I did, and finally get some relief. This is life-changing, and I will always be grateful to you for going before me, and validating my suspicions.

    • Betsy, I am SO happy for you!! I battled restless leg for years (prior to going dairy-free), and understand the frustration. I don’t think it was as severe for me as in your case, but irritating nonetheless – I can only imagine what you must have been going through! I hope that the good health continues for you. Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions in the future!

  9. Betsy Phillips on

    I just came across these posts on restless leg syndrome after googling dairy and RLS to see if there’s a connection. I have just been 2 weeks free of symptoms, which happens every once in a while, and I kept asking myself, “what’s different?” and realized I haven’t had cheese for awhile. I have suffered with this for 40 years. Could this really be the answer? It’s nice to have hope. Thanks for being there.

      • Betsy Phillips on

        Thanks so much, Alisa! I’ll continue off the dairy and report back in a couple of weeks. If symptoms stay away for that long, it will be a record. Btw, I quit sugar and caffeine several months ago. It wasn’t until I stopped the dairy that things started getting better.

  10. Hi Alisa

    In regard to Joan’s comments, I have a website that has a lot of information about Restless Legs Syndrome and how it is caused by inflammation. http://www.rlcure.com

    Dairy is considered one of the main “triggers” of RLS.

    It is also proven to be inflammatory.

    Here are excerpts from scientific studies that have shown that dairy is inflammatory.

    “Milk products also cause inflammation. Modern dairy cows eat grain-containing diets producing excessive omega-6 fats, creating a pro-inflammatory imbalance. In addition, a substantial percentage of our population (some estimate 50%) is allergic to dairy, often unknowingly. Frequent consumption of dairy causes chronic allergic reactions, creating chronic inflammation.”

    “Inflammation: A Common Denominator of Disease” Raymond Francis, Well Being Journal, November/December 2008

    “Studies indicate that cow’s milk increases both intestinal permeability and production of proinflammatory cytokines. Some evidence suggests that a milk-borne infection may play a role in the development of Crohn’s disease. Bacteria called Mycobacteriaum avium, which are commonly found in milk products, are known to survive pasteurization and cause a Crohn’s disease-like illness (Johne’s disease) in dairy cows. Interestingly, these bacteria have been found with far greater frequency in patients with Crohn’s disease than in those with ulcerative colitis or healthy people.”

    Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Nutritional Considerations, NutritionMD http://www.nutritionmd.org/consumers/gastrointestinal/ibd_nutrition.html

    “The reasons dairy products are inflammatory are too lengthy to list here (yogurt, ice cream, cottage cheese, butter, cheese etc.). Today’s dairy products are packed with hormones, antibiotics and other harmful ingredients so avoid them as much as possible.”

    “Top 12 Foods that Cause Inflammation” from ” Arthritis-Proof: The Drug-Free Way to Beat Pain and Inflammation.” by Michelle Schoffro Cook

    David

    • JOAN WHITTENBERGER on

      Thank you, David for that good information about RLS. Finally I have information that may prove to my family and friends that my dairy free diet is not “crazy”

  11. Hay alguien en espanol que me pueda dar informacion de que se trata Dairy free for Restless. Gracias, tengo una nina de 8 anos y trata de buscar como puedo ayudarla.

    • Hola – hablo español suficiente para traducirlo. El autor dice que cuando terminó tomar comida o bebidas lácteas, sus problemas con Restless Leg Syndrome también se terminaron. Dice que es difícil cocinar y preparar comida con la familia porque tienen que acordar no usar productos lácteos en su comida. Pero vale la pena porque ahora el Restless se terminó.

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