Restless leg syndrome (also known as Willis-Ekbom disease) causes uncomfortable tingly or crawling sensations in your limbs.
These sensations cause overwhelming urges to move and typically occur when sitting, resting, or sleeping, causing you to fidget or twitch.
Most people with restless leg syndrome have mild symptoms, but RLS can disrupt your sleep and have knock-on effects on your energy levels and mental health.
As you might imagine, sudden, uncontrollable urges to move your legs can be distracting and uncomfortable, especially when trying to sleep. Fortunately, taking vitamins for restless legs may help you treat the symptoms of RLS, as some studies have linked the condition to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
However, treatments for RLS are varied, as there is no way to be certain about the true root cause of restless leg syndrome, though numerous studies have found links with other conditions. Primary RLS has no known cause, but secondary RLS is associated with nerve problems, iron deficiencies, pregnancy, or chronic kidney failure, so you may find that certain vitamins help with restless leg syndrome.
Table of Contents
- What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome
- How Is Restless Leg Syndrome Diagnosed?
- What Vitamins Are Lacking When You Have Restless Legs?
- Minerals and RLS
- What Is the Best Treatment For Restless Leg Syndrome?
- Other Treatments
- Best Vitamins & Supplements for Restless Leg Syndrome
What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome
RLS is a common condition affecting millions of Americans, but there is often no known cause, as RLS has been linked to neurological, nutritional, and genetic factors. While we can highlight various risk factors, there are no clear-cut causes, making it harder to tell what will relieve restless leg syndrome.
There may be a genetic predisposition and an environmental trigger for RLS, as over 40% of people with the condition have a family history of RLS, and certain substances often exacerbate symptoms. Research has linked restless leg syndrome to low levels of iron in your brain, disruptions to dopamine pathways, and environmental factors like caffeine intake, so all manner of things may cause it.
Restless leg syndrome can also be a symptom of another health issue (such as diabetes, kidney failure, or neuropathy), so you should try to identify and treat the main condition rather than taking vitamins for restless legs.
How Is Restless Leg Syndrome Diagnosed?
There’s no single test for diagnosing restless leg syndrome, and a large part of the diagnosis is based on a description of symptoms, so many people with RLS don’t have a formal diagnosis. As a rule, you must have the four identifying symptoms of RLS to be formally diagnosed, and these are:
- Overwhelming urge(s) to move, usually with strange sensations
- Your symptoms are milder in the morning and days but get worse at night
- Sensory symptoms are triggered when you try to relax or sleep
- Sensory symptoms that get better when you move
Even if you have all these symptoms, you’ll probably need a physical examination before your doctor can advise you on what will relieve restless leg syndrome. Your doctor will most likely ask questions to check for any neurological reasons for your symptoms, so be sure to share details of any medication and supplements you take, as substances like caffeine and nicotine can contribute to RLS symptoms.
What Vitamins Are Lacking When You Have Restless Legs?
While the cause of RLS is not exactly known, it is often linked to vitamin deficiencies, so taking vitamin supplements for restless leg syndrome might help you relieve your symptoms. RLS has also been linked to anemia and dopamine imbalances which can be caused or made worse by vitamin imbalances,
Unfortunately, it’s unclear if vitamin deficiencies cause RLS, or merely trigger restless leg symptoms, so trying to treat a potential vitamin deficiency may not cure your symptoms. So, while there is little scientific consensus on what vitamins help restless leg syndrome, ensuring that you get enough of the following nutrients will help improve your overall health at the very least:
Vitamin B9/Folate/Folic Acid
Pregnant women are more likely to have low levels of vitamin B9 (commonly known as folate or folic acid) and suffer from RLS, so there may be a link between restless leg syndrome and folate. Preliminary research has found that folic acid supplements are an effective treatment for RLS, showing that certain vitamins help with restless leg syndrome.
It is believed that vitamin B12 deficiencies can cause RLS in rare circumstances, thanks to a small study in 1993 in Ireland that tested the blood of RLS patients and found that, while most were deficient in iron, a small number were deficient in vitamin b12. These patients fully recovered after being given vitamin B12 supplements, so taking vitamin B12 supplements for restless leg syndrome may be an effective treatment for RLS.
A small study at UCLA in 1969 found a potential link between RLS and vitamin E, as several RLS patients responded well to treatments of vitamin E. Unfortunately, this study was not thorough enough to prove the effectiveness of E vitamins for restless legs, but there is the potential for vitamin E supplements to improve RLS symptoms.
Several other vitamins have been linked to restless leg syndrome, and while there isn’t enough evidence to make a clear link between them, vitamin B6 and B1 deficiencies appear to create RLS symptoms in certain cases. Additionally, some studies link vitamin A deficiencies to RLS, as some sufferers of RLS have a sensitivity to light, which is considered a low vitamin A.
Minerals and RLS
In addition to vitamins, there is evidence that mineral deficiencies can cause RLS, as they can disrupt the normal functioning of your brain. So, if you are unsure of what will relieve restless leg syndrome and have exhausted the list of vitamins, these minerals may help you manage your symptoms:
A study at the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center found that RLS patients had much lower iron levels in the brain’s substantia nigra, which lacked the receptors necessary to receive healthy amounts of iron. Similarly, an iron deficiency would cause the same problem and potentially lead to RLS, meaning that you may benefit from taking iron supplements for restless leg syndrome.
While the research into magnesium and RLS is still preliminary, a small study found that magnesium supplements appeared to decrease the frequency of restless leg episodes. While there is very little evidence to support this link compared to the evidence that vitamins help with restless leg syndrome, magnesium deficiencies are known to cause neuromuscular excitability, so there is some logic behind this link.
What Is the Best Treatment For Restless Leg Syndrome?
Most people with RLS have mild symptoms that can be easily managed, but moderate to severe RLS can greatly impact your life, disrupting your rest and harming energy levels. Fortunately, you don’t have to find the secret of what vitamins help restless leg syndrome to relieve your RLS symptoms, as many treatments may help you.
Because there is no one treatment for RLS, people have discovered many ways to treat it, which vary from home remedies to surgery, so keep reading to find the right solution for your situation:
1. Rule Out Potential Causes of RLS
Before wondering whether vitamins help with restless leg syndrome, the first step in addressing your restless leg syndrome should be to figure out what may be causing it, excluding factors outside of your control, such as:
- Bad Habits – tobacco, alcohol and caffeine can aggravate RLS symptoms
- Medications – Certain medications can cause or worsen RLS symptoms, like antihistamines, antipsychotics, SSRIs and lithium.
- Health Conditions – Chronic kidney disease, nerve damage and iron deficiency are linked to RLS.
- Other Triggers – Anecdotal evidence suggests that eating sugar and wearing tight clothing can aggravate symptoms of RLS, though there isn’t much research on these links.
2. Healthy Sleep Habits
Healthy sleep habits are recommended for everyone, especially those who struggle to sleep due to RLS symptoms, though they may not sound as exciting as vitamins for restless legs. Healthy sleeping habits may not cure your RLS symptoms, but they can help you offset the sleep loss caused by your condition, so remember these healthy sleeping habits:
- Wake up and go to bed at the same time each day
- Keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet
- Minimize distractions like TV and your phone
- Avoid screens for 2-3 hours before bed: Blue light from electronic devices can throw off your sleep cycle
3. Iron and Vitamin Supplements
Iron deficiency is thought to be one of the main causes of RLS, and several studies have shown that iron supplements can help ease restless leg symptoms. Furthermore, studies into what vitamins help restless leg syndrome found that vitamin D supplements reduced RLS symptoms in people suffering from RLS and vitamin D deficiencies.
Regular exercise can help treat RLS symptoms, and a 2006 study found that regular aerobic and lower body resistance training (done 3 times a week for 12 weeks) significantly reduced RLS symptoms. Even the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation recommend aerobic exercise and yoga for RLS symptoms, so the answer to what will relieve restless leg syndrome symptoms could be closer than you realize.
5. Massage Therapy
Many health organizations recommend Massage as a treatment for RLS, as it boosts circulation, releases dopamine and aids in relaxation. So, rather than using supplements for restless legs, there may be an all-natural solution for your RLS symptoms.
6. Prescription Meds
Although they are not suitable (or available) for everyone with restless leg syndrome, prescription medications can help to treat moderate to severe RLS and usually fall into one of several categories:
- Dopaminergic drugs increase the release of dopamine in your brain, which enables normal body movements.
- Gabapentin is an FDA-approved anti-seizure medication that effectively treats RLS symptoms, though it’s not entirely understood how.
- Benzodiazepines are drugs used to treat anxiety and sleep problems, making them useful in treating secondary symptoms of RLS like fatigue.
- Opioids are typically used to treat pain but may help relieve RLS symptoms. However, opioids are highly addictive, so they should be used carefully if at all.
7. Compression Wraps
Compressing your feet and legs (with foot wraps and/or pneumatic compression) helps relieve RLS symptoms and improve sleep quality. Unfortunately, these specially designed devices cost hundreds of dollars, so you may want to consider using the other treatments on this list, such as vitamins for restless legs, before shopping for these specialist items.
If you’ve tried the other treatments listed and are left wondering what will relieve restless leg syndrome, then the following treatments may help, even if there is less evidence supporting their effectivity:
Hot and Cold Treatments
Applying heat or cold to the affected limb(s) may help reduce RLS symptoms, though results may vary, so experiment by taking a hot or cold bath before bed or applying hot or cold packs to your legs.
Limited studies show that acupuncture can reduce the abnormal leg activity from RLS, though there is currently more evidence that vitamins help with restless leg syndrome than acupuncture.
Varicose Vein Surgery
Varicose veins are enlarged blood vessels that overfill with blood and can prevent proper blood circulation. Surgery to fix them can improve circulation and reduce RLS symptoms in some cases.