How to Help Restless Leg Syndrome Naturally
There are several vitamins that have been shown to reduce the symptoms of RLS. These include:
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in foods including egg yolks, fatty fish, and fortified milk products. Many people are deficient in vitamin D, which is obtained through both foods and supplements. It is also made in the body following exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency may be associated with RLS, and supplementation with vitamin D improves RLS symptoms.
Iron: Iron is a mineral found in foods including shellfish, red meat, spinach, and legumes. Iron deficiency causes iron deficiency anemia, which is associated with secondary RLS. Other symptoms of iron deficiency include weakness, dry skin and nails, and difficulty with concentration. Iron deficiency is relatively common, and iron levels can be increased by taking iron supplements and eating iron-rich foods.
Iron supplementation reduces symptoms of RLS. Iron is linked to RLS through the neurotransmitter dopamine and was one of the first nutrients found to be related to RLS.
Magnesium: Magnesium is a mineral found in food including nuts, seeds, legumes, spinach, and grains. It has recently been determined that it is likely that nearly half of US adults are deficient in magnesium. Magnesium is critical for proper movement, and signs of magnesium deficiency include low energy, fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps, and difficulty sleeping.
Like iron, low magnesium is associated with RLS, and while a recent review of studies found that it is unclear whether magnesium supplements reduce RLS symptoms, these have been found to be helpful for some people.
Folic Acid/Folate: Folic Acid/Folate is a B vitamin found in foods including dark leafy greens, legumes, and fortified grains. Folate is the vitamin form in food, while folic acid is the form in supplements and fortified foods. Like iron, folate deficiency is associated with anemia and RLS, and symptoms include fatigue and weakness. Folic acid supplementation can reduce the symptoms of RLS.
Natural Supplements for Restless Leg Syndrome – Will They Help?
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a movement disorder that is also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease (WED). RLS symptoms include tingling in the legs – often described as “creepy crawlies” and accompanied by an urge to move the legs. This occurs during periods of inactivity (for example, when lying down or sitting) and is relieved by leg movement. RLS symptoms are usually at their worst during the evening and night.
Not surprisingly, RLS is associated with difficulty getting a good night’s sleep and daytime sleepiness. RLS is screened for using a single standard question.
“When you try to relax in the evening or sleep at night, do you ever have unpleasant, restless feelings in your legs that can be relieved by walking or movement?”
If you answered “yes” to this question, it is likely that you have either primary or secondary RLS.
Primary RLS is the most common type and has an unknown cause.
Secondary RLS occurs because of conditions such as iron deficiency, peripheral neuropathy, kidney failure, spinal cord pathology, and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease (PD).
RLS and the Nervous System
RLS is a neurological condition. The neurological, or nervous system, includes the brain, spinal cord, and nerves that travel in a network throughout the body. This system is kept in balance by the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a system of receptors, enzymes, and signaling molecules that act as the body’s “master regulator”.
The ECS and the nervous system work together to regulate important functions such as pain, sleep, and stress. This is often done through the regulation of neurotransmitter levels, which are chemical messengers released by nerve cells.
Two neurotransmitters that have been implicated in RLS are dopamine and glutamate. The brain uses dopamine in the control of movement, and when levels are altered, abnormal movements can result. Glutamate is known as an excitatory neurotransmitter, and when levels are too high, the brain is overactive. Both dopamine and glutamate signaling are regulated by the ECS.
The Endocannabinoid System & RLS
The Endocannabinoid System may influence RLS in several different ways. As already mentioned, the ECS regulates neurotransmission, which is the release of chemical messengers that allow nerve cells to communicate. These neurotransmitters include dopamine and glutamate which have been found to be altered in RLS.
The ECS is also involved in the experience of pain through a variety of mechanisms, including through regulation of receptors that detect painful stimuli. And the ECS regulates sleep, which is affected in RLS.
The ECS is related to the cannabis plant. Compounds in cannabis known as phytocannabinoids bind to receptors in the ECS and help to regulate its function. The two most common cannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, although it is legalized for recreational and/or medical use in some US states.
In contrast, CBD products in the US are made from hemp, a sub-species of cannabis that was made federally legal in the US with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill. While medical cannabis has been found to improve symptoms of RLS, it requires a recommendation from a licensed health care provider, and the qualifying conditions vary between states. This makes CBD a more attractive cannabinoid for most consumers since it is much more readily available.
CBD interacts with the ECS, and several types of CBD products are available that may help RLS sufferers. Commercially available CBD products include:
- CBD Isolate: CBD isolate products only contain isolated CBD and are THC-free. These products are sometimes referred to as pure CBD.
- Broad Spectrum CBD: Broad spectrum CBD products will contain CBD along with other cannabinoids (and usually other compounds like terpenes) but are THC-free.
- Full Spectrum CBD: Full spectrum CBD products will contain CBD along with other cannabinoids (along with other compounds like terpenes), and they can contain up to 0.3% THC.
- Topical CBD Lotion: The CBD in a topical product (applied to the skin) can be an isolate, broad-spectrum, or full spectrum, so it may contain THC.
CBD isolate, broad-spectrum, and full-spectrum are taken orally and they come in a variety of forms, including CBD oil, water-soluble CBD, and CBD edibles. Topical CBD, such as CBD lotion, is applied directly to the part of the body being treated.
Topical CBD lotion has been found to reduce pain from peripheral neuropathy (a cause of secondary RLS), while oral CBD is used to treat a range of issues including chronic pain, sleep, and stress. Both oral and topical CBD products may be used in the treatment of RLS, perhaps even in combination.
Although clinical research using CBD to treat RLS is lacking, survey research has shown that around 5% of users report taking CBD to treat RLS. Studies of CBD have shown few side effects, although it is important to use high-quality products.
Sleep Apnea & Sleep Disorders
As already discussed, RLS is associated with sleep problems and daytime sleepiness. For this reason, RLS is considered a sleep disorder, in addition to a neurological condition. The experience of RLS is disruptive to good quality sleep, especially deep sleep.
As well, RLS is more common in people who experience sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes frequent nighttime awakenings due to problems breathing. Sleep apnea patients that use CPAP therapy have been shown to have less severe RLS and require less RLS medication.
Cannabinoids can provide a natural alternative to prescription medications for both sleep problems and sleep apnea, as well as for RLS (as previously described). THC is an effective treatment for sleep apnea, while CBD holds promise as a sleep aid. A 2021 survey found that 42.5% of CBD users took it to improve sleep.
RLS is often observed in patients with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), a neurological condition that is also associated with changes in levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Due to its connections to the ECS and dopamine signaling, CBD has also been studied for its role in PD, with some encouraging results.
A 2022 study looked at whether CBD could help PD patients who were experiencing RLS as well as a condition known as REM Sleep Behavior Disorder. While CBD was not found to reduce RLS symptoms, the study is limited by the small number (only six subjects) in the CBD treatment group. Other studies have found that CBD improves symptoms of REM Sleep Behavior Disorder as well as sleep satisfaction in PD patients. Magnesium and folic acid may also be helpful in the management of PD.
Summary—What vitamins help restless leg syndrome?
RLS is a common condition that is characterized by an urge to move the legs, especially when resting. While there are prescription medications available to treat RLS, natural alternatives are available. CBD, a cannabinoid found in high concentrations in hemp, is a natural plant herb that can be used to treat RLS and its associated symptoms. Vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, iron, magnesium, and folic acid may be helpful.
If you are an RLS patient, talk to a healthcare professional for medical advice on how these might be incorporated into your health regime.
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