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The Link Between Magnesium and Restless Leg Syndrome

Overview

Key points

  1. There is sufficient evidence that restless leg syndrome can be caused by a magnesium deficiency.
  2. Early research suggests magnesium supplements can reduce RLS symptoms.
  3. High doses of magnesium can result in dangerous side effects. Talk to your doctor about the proper dosage for you.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a disorder of the nervous system that causes the overwhelming urge to move your legs. It’s often accompanied by pain, throbbing, or other unpleasant sensations. Symptoms often increase when you’re inactive, like when you’re sitting or lying down. Restless leg syndrome can be extremely disruptive to sleep.

Magnesium is a natural mineral that our bodies need to function properly. It plays a role in regulating different biochemical reactions in the body. This includes nerve and muscle function and a healthy immune system. Magnesium deficiency can cause problems with nerve impulse conduction, muscle contractions, and muscle cramps.

Can magnesium help treat RLS?

Early research suggests that certain cases of restless leg syndrome may be caused by a magnesium deficiency, and that magnesium supplements can reduce RLS symptoms. Magnesium is sometimes used as a natural or alternative remedy for RLS, especially when a deficiency is thought to contribute to the condition.

Researchers think that magnesium makes it easier for muscles to relax. This may be because of its calcium-blocking abilities, which help regulate the nerves and muscles instead of letting calcium “activate” the nerves. If magnesium is low, calcium isn’t blocked and nerves become overactive and trigger muscle contractions.

One study found that magnesium improved insomnia caused by RLS. An older study found that magnesium treatments provided relief as an alternative therapy for patients with mild or moderate RLS.

Getting more magnesium is an extremely effective treatment for RLS when magnesium deficiency is a contributing factor to the condition.

Magnesium side effects

The most common side effect of magnesium is stomach upset. Other common side effects include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramping

These side effects may be lessened by reducing the dose of magnesium.

Severe side effects

High doses of magnesium are not safe, and can result in dangerous side effects. Side effects of a magnesium buildup within the body include:

  • low blood pressure
  • confusion
  • irregular heartbeat
  • reduced rate of breathing

In severe cases, it can result in coma or death. 

Forms and doses

Magnesium is available in a number of different forms and doses. Magnesium oxide is most commonly available in oral supplements. For adolescent and adult men and women, daily doses of 270-350 mg are considered safe. Talk to a medical professional about the proper dosage for you.

Magnesium sulfate can be administered via IV, though the oral supplement would likely be used instead for treating RLS.

Foods with magnesium

You can add more magnesium-rich foods to your diet. Foods rich in magnesium include:

  • dark greens like chard, spinach, and kale
  • nuts and seeds, including pumpkin and squash seeds
  • fish like mackerel and tuna
  • beans and lentils
  • avocados
  • bananas
  • low-fat and non-fat dairy, including yogurt 

Potential risks

Magnesium is considered safe for most people to take. This is especially true for oral supplements and magnesium that’s obtained through food.

If you have any bleeding disorders, you should not take magnesium without consulting your doctor. Magnesium can slow blood clotting and can increase the risk of bleeding. You also shouldn’t take magnesium if you have any kidney disorders, including kidney failure.

Magnesium administered via an IV may not be safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Magnesium may interact with certain medications, including:

  • aminoglycoside, quinolone, and tetracycline antibiotics
  • calcium channel blockers
  • muscle relaxants
  • water pills
  • bisphosphonates

Alternative remedies for RLS

In addition to magnesium, several natural and alternative treatments can offer relief from restless leg syndrome. These treatments include:

  • sitting in a warm bath, which can relax muscles
  • getting massages
  • getting moderate exercise regularly, which can reduce symptoms of RLS
  • avoiding caffeine, which can agitate RLS and decrease magnesium in the body
  • utilizing relaxation techniques like meditation to lessen the stress that can aggravate RLS
  • establishing a regular sleep routine

Traditional RLS treatments

Traditional treatments are available for RLS, including medications that you can take. These medications include:

  • medications that increase dopamine in the brain, which can reduce motion in the legs
  • opioids
  • muscle relaxants
  • sleep medications, which can reduce insomnia caused by RLS

Some medications for RLS can become addictive, like opioids or some sleep medications. You can develop a resistance to others, like medications that increase dopamine in the brain.

Takeaway

There’s strong evidence that magnesium deficiencies can contribute to RLS. Taking a daily magnesium supplement may help reduce symptoms and can improve sleep quality.

If magnesium alone doesn’t resolve your symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss alternative remedies and medications that may benefit you.

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