Medically reviewed by Valerie Cacho, MD
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological (brain-related) condition that causes an unpleasant sensation in your legs and the uncontrollable urge to move them. The symptoms of RLS worsen at night, which can cause significant sleep disturbances.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for restless legs syndrome, but treatment can help you better manage the condition. Early research shows that RLS may be associated with certain vitamin deficiencies—particularly vitamins B, C, D, and E. Experts suggest that taking vitamin supplements may help improve some symptoms of RLS. Keep in mind: you should always talk to your healthcare provider to see if supplements are right for you before you start taking them.
Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless legs syndrome can significantly affect your sleep, either making it very difficult to fall asleep or go back to sleep after waking up. Walking or moving your legs can relieve the discomfort temporarily, but the uncomfortable sensation in your legs may return once you stop moving.
The symptoms of restless legs syndrome most often occur in the late afternoon or evening and worsen at night. A few common symptoms of the condition include:
Uncomfortable sensations in your legs
Worsening symptoms when resting or sleeping
Symptom relief when you move your legs
Changes in sleep quality
Lower productivity levels
Mood changes or depression
The frequency and severity of symptoms vary from person to person. Those with mild RLS may experience symptoms once or twice a week while those with severe cases of RLS can have symptoms each night.
Research suggests that vitamin B may play an important role in RLS. Low levels of vitamin B12 may lead to the onset of RLS, while a lack of vitamin B6 can contribute to more severe symptoms. That said, taking vitamin B6 and B12 supplements or may help offset some symptoms.
You can also incorporate more vitamin B in your diet. For example, vitamin B12 is found in foods like eggs, fish, and milk, while foods like starchy vegetables, non-citrus fruits, and fortified cereal contain vitamin B6.
Both types of vitamin B also come with their own set of benefits, including the following:
Improves sleep quality
Supports the function of your nerves, which may limit involuntary movement in your legs
Increases dopamine levels in the brain which can help reduce muscle spasms
Helps with improving the circulation of your blood, which may reduce pain in your legs
However, just like medications, vitamins also come with side effects. That's why it's so important to talk to your healthcare provider and know the risks before you start using supplements.
Vitamin B12 is generally safe to take because your body doesn't store excess amounts of the vitamin. But vitamin B12 can sometimes interact with other medications you might be taking, such as Zantac (ranitidine) or Prilosec (omeprazole).
Similar to vitamin B12, vitamin B6 can also have drug interactions with other medications. This may include anti-seizure medications like Epitol (carbamazepine) and medicines for asthma, such as Elixophylline (theophylline). Additionally, excess intake of vitamin B6 supplements can sometimes lead to nausea, heartburn, or light sensitivity.
A vitamin D deficiency can cause dopamine dysfunction, which may be associated with the onset of restless legs syndrome. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger in your brain) that controls sensory and motor functions. Changes in your dopamine levels can cause abnormal or involuntary movements which may increase your risk of developing RLS.
Early studies suggest that adding more vitamin D to your diet or taking the vitamin in supplement form can help to improve the severity of RLS symptoms. However, more research is needed to understand the effectiveness of vitamin D for RLS.
Current research shows that vitamin D may improve RLS symptoms by:
Maintaining healthy bones
Improving muscle movement
Supporting nerve function and limiting involuntary movement
But taking more vitamin D than you need can cause side effects, such as:
Nausea or vomiting
Loss of appetite
Higher risk of developing kidney stones
If your healthcare provider thinks vitamin D may be a good option for you, they may prescribe you a vitamin D supplement. You can also naturally find vitamin D in foods like cheese, milk, yogurt, and fatty fish. Spending time in the sun also increases your vitamin D levels, but it's important to wear sunscreen and limit sun exposure to protect your skin.
Vitamins C and E
People with chronic kidney disease are at an increased risk of experiencing RLS. Some research suggests that taking a combination of vitamin C and E can improve severe symptoms of RLS caused by kidney disease.
Both vitamins C and E help your body from cell damage. But they have their own unique benefits. These include:
Improves sleep quality
Helps widen your blood vessels and decrease the risk of blood clots in your legs
Participates in the production of collagen, which may help reduce inflammation
Supports overall brain health and immunity
Side effects of high doses of both vitamins C and E can also happen. Taking too much vitamin C may cause nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. But excess intake of vitamin E supplements may lead to a higher risk of bleeding and an increased risk of prostate cancer in people assigned male at birth. Research also shows that both vitamins C and E may interact with medications that help lower cholesterol and reduce the effectiveness of cancer treatments, like chemotherapy.
Currently, there is no cure for restless legs syndrome. Aside from vitamins, other treatment options can also help improve your condition. While your treatment plan will depend on your symptoms and the severity of your condition, your healthcare provider may recommend a combination of vitamins, medications, and home remedies.
Certain medications can help to relieve the symptoms of restless legs syndrome. These include:
Anti-seizure drugs: Anti-seizure drugs are the first line of treatment for people with restless legs syndrome. These most often include Horizant (gabapentin enacarbil) and Lyrica (pregabalin).
Dopaminergic agents: These drugs help to increase dopamine levels in your brain, which may reduce RLS symptoms. Mirapex (pramipexole), Neupro (rotigotine), and Requip (ropinirole) are three dopaminergic agents that are currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat moderate to severe restless legs syndrome.
Benzodiazepines: To help reduce muscle spasms, insomnia, or anxiety associated with RLS, your healthcare provider may recommend benzodiazepines (a class of depressant drugs). The most common medications in this drug class are Ativan(lorazepam) and Klonopin (clonazepam).
Opioids: Healthcare providers only recommend opioids for people with severe RLS who do not respond well to other medications. Codeine and Methadone, sold under various brand names, are two common opioids that your provider may prescribe to improve your condition.
Your provider may also recommend several home remedies to manage mild to moderate RLS symptoms. These at-home self-care tips may include:
Stretching your legs
Practicing gentle aerobic exercises (like walking) regularly
Sticking to a sleep schedule
Avoiding the use of nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine
Massaging your legs
Taking warm baths
Using foot wraps or compression socks designed specially for people living with RLS
Applying ice packs or heating pads to the legs
A Quick Review
Restless legs syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes unpleasant sensations in your legs and an excessive urge to move them. RLS symptoms worsen during the night or while at rest and temporarily reduce or go away with movement. Restless legs syndrome also significantly affects your sleep quality. There is no cure for restless legs syndrome but several treatment approaches are available to relieve symptoms.
Initial research suggests that certain vitamin deficiencies may contribute to the onset of RLS symptoms. As such, taking vitamins B6, B12, C, D, or E may play a small role in improving your condition. But before you add a vitamin supplement to your treatment plan or change your diet, please talk to your healthcare provider to see if an increased vitamin intake is right for you.
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