Restless Legs Syndrome
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
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?
Preliminary studies suggest that supplemental
Based on numerous case reports of improvement,
A number of studies have linked RLS to low levels of
In contrast to these results, a double-blind study of 28 people found that iron didn’t relieve RLS any better than placebo.
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.
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.
3. Popoviciu L, Asgian B, Delast-Popoviciu D, et al. Clinical, EEG, electromyographic and polysomnographic studies in restless legs syndrome caused by magnesium deficiency. Rom J Neurol Psychiatry. 1993;31:55-61.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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