According to the National Sleep Foundation, around 10 percent of individuals experience Restless Legs Syndrome at times. 1 in 500 reports that the condition is chronic and interferes with their quality of life, work productivity, and mental health. If you suffer from uneasy feelings in your legs that keep you up at night, you may wonder what vitamins might help restless leg syndrome. Let’s look at what RLS is and what you can do about your suffering. 

What is Restless Leg Syndrome? (RLS)

 “People with severe RLS describe symptoms of the condition as an overwhelming urge to move their legs when they are at rest. They may feel pain, or the sensation of soda bubbles in their veins or worms crawling in their legs, with relief coming only when standing or deliberately moving their legs.” (2)  

A study at Johns Hopkins University reveals that “Essentially the brain sends the signal when it’s preparing to move a limb, even when you aren’t planning to move, so your body is ready and amped up,” says Richard Allen, Ph.D., professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “The only way to alleviate the feeling is to move.” (2)

An Inherited Neurological Disorder

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke classifies RLS as “a sleep disorder since the symptoms are triggered by resting and attempting to sleep, and as a movement disorder, since people are forced to move their legs in order to relieve symptoms.  It is, however, best characterized as a neurological sensory disorder with symptoms that are produced from within the brain itself.” (3)

RLS is a highly heritable disorder, with a 35-40% relative risk of inherency. So if you struggle with needing to move your legs when it’s time to sleep, your children may also be at risk of inheriting the same problem as they age. 

“RLS affects approximately 5–10% of European and North American adults with about 2–3% experiencing moderate to severe symptoms. However, they indicate a lower prevalence of the disease in Africa and Asia and among Hispanics. The overall pediatric prevalence is 2–4% in the United States. Based on a population-based survey, the prevalence of RLS was 3% between ages 18 and 29, 10% between ages 30 and 79 and 19% in people older than 80 years of age. The mean age of onset is during the third or the fourth decade.” (4)

Vitamin D Deficiency

Especially if you live in colder climates, it is easy to experience a Vitamin D deficiency without enough sun. According to Healthline, “Vitamin D is an extremely important vitamin that has many important functions throughout your body. Unlike other vitamins, vitamin D functions like a hormone. Many cells in your body have a receptor for it. Your body makes it from cholesterol when your skin is exposed to sunlight. It’s also found in certain foods such as fatty fish and fortified dairy products, though it’s very difficult to get enough from your diet alone.” (5)

Adults should aim to get 1,500–2,000 IUs of vitamin D daily. Foods that contain large amounts of Vitamin D include:

  • fatty fish
  • egg yolks
  • fortified cereals
  • milk and juices with added vitamin D
  • yogurt
  • beef liver

Studies show that “vitamin D supplementation improves the severity of RLS symptoms and advocates that vitamin D deficiency is conceivably associated with RLS.” (6)

Vitamins C and E

Vitamins C and E and their combination are safe and effective treatments for reducing the severity of RLS in hemodialysis patients over the short term according to a study in PubMed. This combination seemed to help hemodialysis patients with RLS. However, if your C and E vitamin levels are low, it can’t hurt to try eating foods higher in these nutrients. 

Foods high in Vitamin E include:

  • Pumpkin and Sunflower seeds
  • Almonds and Peanuts, peanut butter
  • Beet greens, collard greens, spinach
  • Red bell pepper

Foods High in Vitamin C include:

  • citrus fruit, such as oranges and orange juice
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts

Vitamin C actually also helps your body absorb iron better. Low iron levels are often implicated as a cause of RLS.

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Johns Hopkins is currently planning a study to determine if intravenous iron therapy can help patients with anemia and RLS. This clinical trial will attempt to establish the effectiveness of intravenous iron in treating patients who have anemia and RLS symptoms. (8)

According to Hopkins Medicine, published medical studies have shown that iron level testing of the blood shows normal iron levels even when brain iron storage is low (shown in cerebrospinal fluid). MRI studies have shown that low iron concentrations in the “substantia nigra” part of the brain may cause RLS symptoms. (9)

You may want to consider eating more red meat (with citrus for better absorption) if you experience symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia such as:

  • Chronic exhaustion not relieved by sleep
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Chest pain
  • Cold hands and feet

When you eat iron-containing foods, add citrus fruit to your meal to help your body better absorb the iron. Don’t eat dairy or drink milk with your iron-containing foods as it may inhibit the absorption of the iron. 

Avoid Excitatory Food Additives such as MSG or Aspartame

In “Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills,” Russell Blaylock, MD, explains that excitotoxins include: MSG, aspartate, and cysteine. “Hereditary plays a role in controlling enzymes that either generate energy for the neuron or protect it from dangerous accumulations of free radicals or excitotoxins.” (10)

According to Hopkins Medicine, “Glutamate may be equally important in causing some of the symptoms experienced by RLS patients.” 

“The most frequently encountered food excitotoxin is glutamate which is commercially added to many foods despite evidence that it can freely penetrate certain brain regions and rapidly destroy neurons…” (11)

New Treatments for RLS

Dopaminergic medications have been the mainstay treatment of RLS, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease. Some of the medications used to treat RLS in the past and now include:

  • L-dopa and dopamine agonists, 
  • benzodiazepines 
  • Baclofen 
  • Antiepileptic drugs (gabapentin, carbamazepine, valproic acid) 

Standard treatments include medications that behave like the neurotransmitter dopamine, opioids and anti-seizure drugs. New directions for treatment may include using electrical or magnetic pulses to calm or interrupt the neurological hyperarousal of the brain. (12)

We Can Help

If you struggle to rest at night because of the creepy crawlies in your legs, there is hope. Trying to eat healthily and exercise are good starting points, but if your restless leg syndrome remains a problem, make an appointment with our sleep study clinic. Our sleep specialists focus on conditions in the brain that make sleep irregular or impossible. We find the solutions you need to get a good night’s sleep again. Get in touch today and find out how our board-certified ENT sleep specialists can help you feel like yourself again. 



  1. How to Treat Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
  2. Restless legs syndrome brain stimulation study supports motor cortex ‘excitability’ as a cause: Experiments with patients suggest brain stimulation may be a viable treatment 
  3. Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
  4. Sleep Medicine: Restless Legs Syndrome 
  5. Vitamin D Deficiency: Symptoms, Treatments, Causes and More 
  6. The effect of vitamin D supplements on the severity of restless legs syndrome
  7. Efficacy of vitamins C, E, and their combination for treatment of restless legs syndrome in hemodialysis patients: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial 
  8. RLS Research and Clinical Trials | The Johns Hopkins Center for Restless Legs Syndrome
  9. Causes of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) | The Johns Hopkins Center for Restless Legs Syndrome
  10.  Blaylock Russell. Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills. 1997
  11. Excitotoxins in foods 
  12. Sleep Medicine: Restless Legs Syndrome 


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