Restless Legs Syndrome

Uses

Principal Proposed Natural Treatments

  • None

Other Proposed Natural Treatments

People with restless legs syndrome (RLS) often feel an intense urge to move their legs, particularly when sitting still or trying to fall asleep. Unlike those with nighttime leg cramps—a different condition—people with RLS don’t experience pain. Instead, they may describe an uncomfortable "creepy-crawly sensation" inside their legs. Walking relieves the symptoms, but as soon as people settle down again, the urge to move recurs. The feeling is sometimes described as "wanting to ride a bicycle under the covers."

RLS tends to run in families, often emerging or worsening with age. People with RLS frequently have another condition as well, called periodic leg movements in sleep (PLMS). People with PLMS kick their legs frequently during the night, disrupting their own sleep and that of their bed partner.

Since RLS is occasionally linked to other serious diseases, it’s advisable to see a doctor if you have symptoms.

Conventional medical treatment for RLS usually involves taking a levodopa-carbidopa combination, better known as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease. The drug quinine has been used in the past, but one double-blind study found no benefit. 1

 Because of this and a risk of dangerous side effects, quinine is no longer used for this purpose.

Proposed Natural Treatments

Preliminary evidence suggests that symptoms of RLS may be relieved by supplementation with one of several minerals or vitamins, including magnesium, folate, iron, and vitamin E. However, as yet there are no double-blind studies to support these treatments; therefore, their use remains speculative. (For information on why such studies are essential, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies? )

Magnesium

Preliminary studies suggest that supplemental magnesium may be helpful for RLS, even when magnesium levels are normal. 2,3 An open study of 10 people with insomnia related to RLS or periodic leg movements in sleep found that their sleep improved significantly when they took magnesium nightly for 4 to 6 weeks. 4 However, open studies are extremely unreliable because they do not factor out the placebo effect . Also, no double-blind studies on magnesium for RLS have been reported.

Folate

Based on numerous case reports of improvement, folate is also sometimes recommended for RLS. Symptoms decreased in one study of 45 patients given 5 to 30 mg of folate daily. 5 However, again this was not a double-blind experiment; therefore, the meaningfulness of the results are questionable. Keep in mind that such high doses of folate should be administered only under medical supervision.

Folate taken in nutritional doses may be of benefit to pregnant women with RLS who are deficient in this vitamin. 6

Iron

A number of studies have linked RLS to low levels of iron in the blood. 7 In one analysis of the medical records of 27 people with RLS, those with the most severe symptoms had lower-than-average levels of serum ferritin, one measure of iron deficiency. 8 In another study in which 18 elderly people with RLS were compared with 18 elderly people without the condition, those with RLS also had reduced levels of serum ferritin. 9 When 15 of these people were given iron, all but one experienced a reduction in symptoms. Those with the lowest initial ferritin levels improved the most. However, once more, these were not double-blind studies, so the results cannot be trusted.

In contrast to these results, a double-blind study of 28 people found that iron didn’t relieve RLS any better than placebo. 10 However, in this particular study, participants had normal levels of iron on average. The study didn’t effectively measure whether iron might help RLS among people with iron deficiency.

One theory holds that mild iron deficiency may cause RLS by decreasing the amount of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This theory is supported by findings that conventional drugs which increase dopamine activity (such as the Parkinson’s disease medication mentioned above) can also alleviate RLS. 11

The bottom line: Iron supplements might be useful for people with RLS who are also deficient in iron, but this has not been proven. Still, if you're deficient in iron, that is worth correcting. Note that tests for anemia won’t necessarily pick up the low-grade iron deficiency that is linked to RLS. For that purpose, you'll need tests that specifically evaluate iron levels, such as ferritin, serum iron, and total iron-binding capacity.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E has also been proposed for this condition. In one report, seven out of nine people with RLS given 400 to 800 IU daily of vitamin E experienced virtually complete control of symptoms, while the other two had partial relief. 12 Other anecdotal reports suggest that vitamin C may be useful, and that vitamin B 12 may benefit people with RLS who are deficient in this nutrient. 13,14 However, while these reports may sound good, again they mean next to nothing because they were not double-blind studies.

Revisions

All EBSCO Publishing proprietary, consumer health and medical information found on this site is accredited by URAC. URAC's Health Web Site Accreditation Program requires compliance with 53 rigorous standards of quality and accountability, verified by independent audits. To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at HLEditorialTeam@ebscohost.com.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Editorial Policy | Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions | Support
Copyright © 2008 EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.

Staying active will help you develop a strong body, lower your risk for disease, reduce stress and protect your bones and joints. Keep things interesting by mixing it up; don't be afraid to try something new.