3 Nutrients for Restless Leg Syndrome
Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease (WED), restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a movement disorder that may affect up to 14% of people. Those who suffer from this condition often complain of creepy-crawly sensations or itchy burning feelings, especially at night. RLS can wreak havoc on sleep and disrupts people's work and social lives, because there is an almost irresistible urge to move their limbs to relieve the sensation, if only temporarily. There’s no known cause for RLS/WED. It may be the result of the area of the brain responsible for movement not being able to use dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that creates smooth and decisive movements.
This condition does seem to run in families, and it’s more common during the last trimester of pregnancy (although it often disappears within a month of delivery), as well as in chronic diseases such as diabetes and kidney failure. People with RLS/WED tend to have inflammatory conditions, leading researchers to explore whether inflammation could play a role.
Certain medications can also cause RLS/WED. Talk to your health care practitioner to see if your medications could be the culprit.
RLS/WED is essentially a lifelong condition, but don’t be discouraged. There are things you can do to help reduce the symptoms and have more restful sleep. Although there are medications that can help with RLS/WED, there isn’t one drug that works for everyone. Consult with your health care practitioner about the best treatment plan for your situation.
Addressing Nutritional Deficiencies
Assessing and treating nutritional deficiencies is an important step in improving symptoms of RLS/WED. Start by including foods in your diet that are rich in these key nutrients. If you do not find relief with food alone, consider taking these as a supplement.
If you have RLS/WED, have your ferritin levels tested. About 20% of sufferers are deficient in ferritin (the form in which your body stores iron). Iron supplementation is generally recommended when ferritin levels measure less than 50ng/mL. For those with a deficiency, studies have shown that taking 200 to 300mg of oral ferrous sulfate up to three times per day can improve RLS/WED symptoms if taken over several months. Before you start chowing down on iron tablets, talk to your doctor about this and have your iron levels monitored regularly if you are supplementing.
Good food sources of iron from animal products (called heme iron) include fish, eggs and poultry. Plant sources (called non-heme iron) include beans, peas and lentils, fortified cereal and blackstrap molasses. Non-heme iron is absorbed half as well as heme iron. Add foods rich in vitamin C to your meal for better iron absorption.
For those who have family history of RLS/WED, high doses of folic acid seem to help alleviate symptoms. Some researchers suggest that there may be some deficiency that gets passed from gene to gene that causes malabsorption on the folic acid end. The recommended doses are pretty high, so it is best that you work with a health care provider. Folate is found in broccoli, spinach and asparagus, as well as legumes such as chickpeas, beans and lentils.
Sometimes RLS/WED seems to be caused by an electrolyte imbalance. Patients with eating disorders, or who have undergone gastric bypass surgery, often develop RLS. Both these conditions disrupt electrolyte balance. If this is the case, magnesium may help because it promotes muscle and nerve health. Taking 200-800mg of elemental magnesium per day, at night, may help those twitches. A magnesium deficiency can cause neurons (nerve cells) to be overexcited. Magnesium is also found in whole grains, leafy greens (spinach, Swiss chard), legumes, nuts and seeds, fish and milk products.
Humanized Health - NEW!
Learn about personalized health from top experts! Check out our fascinating new shows every week, available as videos, podcasts and transcripts.:
Paula is a highly qualified and experienced nutrition counselor on the staff at Village Green.
Margo's impressive knowledge base is the result of a unique blend of educational and professional experience.
Dr. Neal Barnard
Dr. Barnard leads programs advocating for preventive medicine, good nutrition, and higher ethical standards in research.
Dr. Joseph Pizzorno
Dr. Joseph Pizzorno, ND is a pioneer of integrative medicine and a leading authority on science-based natural medicine.
Debi is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition, a personal trainer, and whole health coach.
Teri is a is a Certified Coach Practitioner with extensive certifications and experience in holistic medicinal practices.
Dr. Rav Ivker
Dr. Rav Ivker is a holistic family physician, health educator, and best-selling author.
Susan writes about the connection between plant-based diets and a reduced risk of chronic diseases.
Dr. Rob Brown
Dr. Brown's blended perspective of healthcare includes a deeply rooted passion for wellness and spiritual exploration.