Best Supplements for Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
If you struggle with the symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS), you understand how frustrating it can be to narrow down potential causes and find an effective (yet safe) treatment.
Fortunately, there's a great deal of medical research showing that various supplements for restless legs syndrome may help alleviate RLS symptoms.
What is restless legs syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome, also called Willis-Ekbom disease, is a medical condition causing uncomfortable sensations in the legs. You may feel tingling, crawling or creeping just under the skin of your legs, which causes the overwhelming urge to move your legs in an attempt to get relief.
RLS symptoms may occur while a person is resting, sleeping, or sitting still. Symptoms may be most bothersome at night. Involuntary leg movements caused by RLS are called periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS), and they can cause serious and ongoing sleep disruptions, which may lead to a number of other chronic health problems.
Potential causes of restless legs syndrome
Primary RLS has no known cause. However, secondary RLS is commonly associated with iron deficiency, nerve problems, pregnancy or chronic kidney failure.
For many people who struggle with RLS, symptoms are manageable. But for others, RLS symptoms prevent restful sleep, make travel impossible, cause the inability to focus or concentrate and may lead to anxiety and depression. People who live with RLS for long periods of time tend to experience more severe symptoms.
If you are living with RLS symptoms, it's crucial to think about whether there could be an underlying cause. RLS may be related to things you can't control, like your genetics or a pregnancy. However, if you are suffering due to RLS that's triggered by vitamin or mineral deficiency, or there's a cause that can be medically addressed, it's important to identify the reason for your RLS symptoms.
Here are some common RLS causes:
Iron deficiency and anemia
Low iron and anemia may cause RLS symptoms. Ask your doctor to check your iron levels to verify that they fall into the normal range. Some people don't process iron normally, which could mean you'll need to take iron supplements.
It's important to get your iron level checked before you start taking supplements. Too much iron can cause health problems as well.
Underlying health conditions
RLS symptoms may be related to underlying health conditions, including peripheral neuropathy, which is damage to the nerves of the legs caused by a condition such as diabetes. Researchers have also made connections between RLS symptoms and people with Parkinson's Disease, Fibromyalgia, hypo or hyperthyroidism, Amyloidosis, Lyme Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
A number of studies have shown a link between RLS symptoms and patients undergoing dialysis. In one study, 16.8% of patients on dialysis suffered from RLS symptoms, and in another study, 55% of those undergoing dialysis lived with RLS as well.
While scientists don't quite understand the relationship between sleep-disordered breathing and RLS symptoms, studies show that many sleep-disordered breathing patients, especially those with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), also suffer with RLS. Left untreated, OSA can lead to serious cardiac problems.
What supplements are good for restless legs syndrome?
While doctors may prescribe specific drugs to help patients live more comfortably with RLS symptoms, many RLS sufferers find that certain supplements also work to help alleviate unpleasant sensations associated with the condition.
Magnesium and RLS
Some researchers believe that magnesium supplementation makes it easier for muscles to relax. Magnesium helps regulate nerve and muscle function. People who have low magnesium levels may find that their nerves are overactive, which could lead to involuntary contractions and a creeping or crawling sensation in their legs.
Is magnesium a viable treatment for restless legs syndrome at night?
There are multiple studies showing that magnesium has improved RLS-related insomnia. One study found that RLS sufferers experienced relief when they used magnesium as an alternative therapy to treat their RLS symptoms.
Certain vitamins, like vitamin B, C and E have been shown to help alleviate RLS symptoms as well.
- Folate and B12: Increase circulation in extremities.
- Folic acid: Researchers believe that folic acid may help with symptoms associated with primary (familial) RLS.
- Vitamin C and E taken in combination: May reduce the severity of RLS in patients with low iron due to its ability to help the body absorb iron.
Levodopa (L-Dopa), a synthesized amino acid, was used as a treatment for Parkinson's Disease over 50 years ago, and was then given to RLS sufferers. Used under a doctor's care, L-Dopa may reduce RLS symptoms while improving sleep quality. Many doctors who specialize in RLS consider L-Dopa to be the preferred treatment for this condition. Supplements that are precursors to L-dopa, such as mucuna pruriens, may provide some benefit.
Even if iron levels are normal, some RLS patients have low brain iron storage levels, as shown in cerebrospinal fluid. According to MRI studies, low iron concentrations in the substantia nigra may trigger RLS symptoms.
Some doctors recommend eating more red meat and combining iron-rich foods with citrus to enhance absorption. Organ meats and organ meat glandular extracts are examples of iron-rich food supplements. Symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia may include:
- Pale skin
- Overall weakness
- Irregular heartbeats
- Chronic exhaustion
- Cold feet and hands
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Gaba and RLS
RLS patients who don't get results from iron supplementation may be prescribed GABA-ergic treatment by their doctor. Activating GABA helps deactivate sensitive nerve cells, relaxing the brain activity and reducing symptoms. This type of medication may have a sedating effect as well.
What are the benefits of using supplements for RLS?
RLS has confused medical professionals for decades and after a great deal of study and research, we have evidence that certain supplements are likely to help alleviate RLS symptoms for many sufferers.
In general, supplements are a safe option when taken under the care of your doctor. Of course, certain supplements may interfere with the effectiveness of drugs prescribed by your doctor, so it's crucial to check with your physician before starting any new regimen.
Natural herbal supplements for RLS
When it comes to natural and herbal supplements for RLS, it's important to choose products from a trustworthy company. Follow the instructions for use, and always check with your doctor before starting a new supplement or herbal remedy.
It may take time for a supplement to start working, and many RLS patients find that keeping a diary of their habits, symptoms and treatments helps them identify patterns over time that could help them determine which interventions are most effective.
What are the risks of using supplements for RLS?
Your RLS symptoms aren't exactly like anyone else's, nor are the triggers that produce those symptoms. However, many RLS patients have some of the same underlying conditions, and can easily and safely treat those conditions with supplements.
Just because herbs and supplements come from nature, it doesn't mean they are 100% safe for everyone. Many powerful prescription medications are chemicals found in nature and purified. Something that is "natural" may not necessarily be 100% safe for everyone.
Supplements can have strong effects on the human body. As you search for relief from RLS symptoms, remember that even natural substances can cause unpleasant side effects, depending on your situation. Check with your physician to determine if any interactions exist between medications you take and the natural supplements you would like to use.
The best natural treatment options for RLS
If you live with RLS symptoms, you may feel frustrated and wish that you could find relief. While the root cause of the condition remains a mystery, medical professionals acknowledge that certain therapies are effective in many patients.
Here is a list of some of the most researched-backed, natural supplements that may help alleviate symptoms of RLS:
- L-dopa precursors (e.g. mucuna extract)
- Vitamins B12, C, and E