Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a nervous system disorder that gives patients an overwhelming urge to move their legs. The symptoms also include throbbing, pain, and other types of unpleasant and disturbing sensations in the legs.
Symptoms of the syndrome are more pronounced when patients are sitting, laying down, sleeping, or otherwise inactive. It can be extremely disruptive to sleep and can lead to insomnia and chronic sleep deprivation.
RLS is closely related to periodic limb movements during sleep (PLMS). The only difference is that PLMS occurs only when the patient is sleeping, while RLS symptoms can show up while awake.
Symptoms of RLS
The main symptoms of this disorder include a strong urge to move legs, often combined with a feeling of intense restlessness in the legs.
The symptoms get worse when resting and subside when patients are walking or stretching their legs. Moreover, they might worsen in the evening/ night or might only be present at night. It might also be noted here that the feeling of restlessness in this syndrome is different from that in other conditions like cramps, arthritis, or swelling.
Role of Magnesium in the Body
Magnesium is a natural mineral that our bodies need to operate normally. It is a part of many of the biochemical processes of the body, but the one relevant to RLS is its role in the conduction of nerve impulses.
Magnesium is one of the fundamental minerals the nervous system needs to conduct nerve impulses across the nerves and muscles. It also protects the neurons against hyperexcitation. Magnesium deficiency can lead to improper functioning of the nervous system and insufficient coordination between muscles and nerves. This makes magnesium deficiency a cause of RLS.
Research Evidence on Effectiveness of Magnesium in Treating RLS
According to data analyzed by StuffThatWorks, a crowdsourced platform specializing in treatment effectiveness analysis, magnesium helps relieve RLS in more than half of the patients that try it to varying degrees.
In a 1998 study by M Hornyak and others, named, “Magnesium therapy for periodic leg movements-related insomnia and restless legs syndrome: an open pilot study,” the team found out that magnesium treatment may be a useful alternative therapy in patients with mild to moderate RLS or PLMS. However, they also pointed out that more research and placebo studies are needed to reach a definitive conclusion.
In a 2019 study, titled “Magnesium supplementation for the treatment of restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder: A systematic review,” the researchers concluded that they were unable to determine the effectiveness of magnesium in treating RLS. There is not enough evidence to scientifically establish magnesium as a viable treatment for the syndrome, but it has been found beneficial in relieving the condition.
The Role of Magnesium in Treating RLS
Certain instances of RLS can be caused by a deficiency of magnesium in the body; hence, magnesium supplements can help relieve them.
The main supporting argument for magnesium being a possible treatment for RLS is that magnesium can support the muscles achieving a state of relaxation. This is because of the calcium-blocking abilities of the mineral. If the magnesium level in the body is low, calcium cannot be blocked and can overexcite the muscles, causing restlessness and contractions.
Though there are studies that point out magnesium can help with insomnia resulting from RLS, patients should only start using it after consulting with their health practitioner.
Magnesium is a mineral that is available in a number of different types to choose from. The most commonly used one is magnesium oxide. The recommended safe daily dose of the mineral is 270-350mg for adult men and women.
Magnesium supplementation can also be done in the form of an intravenous infusion of magnesium sulfate, but oral intake is mostly recommended for RLS. Patients need to talk to their medical care provider to learn the quantity and mechanism of intake.
Moreover, they do not always have to take supplements to correct the levels of magnesium in their body. There are natural sources of this element too.
Natural Sources of Magnesium
The magnesium-rich foods that can be made a part of daily diet include:
- Kale, spinach, and chard
- Pumpkin and squash seeds
- Tuna, mackerel, and other fish
- Lentils and other beans
- Dairy products like milk and yogurt
Taking magnesium as a supplement or increasing magnesium intake comes with some risks and side effects too. Patients need to consider these as well before they start supplementing this mineral.
Risks Associated With Magnesium
Magnesium is considered safe for most patients. Especially if they are taking it orally or from natural sources, the chances of adverse effects are fairly low. The patients need to avoid supplementing it if they:
- Suffer from bleeding disorders (it can worsen the situation as it prevents the blood from clotting)
- Suffer from kidney disease, including kidney failure
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding (magnesium administered via IV channels is not safe)
Interactions of Magnesium With Medication
There are some medications that are affected by magnesium. These include:
- Tetracycline antibiotics, aminoglycoside, and quinolone
- Muscle relaxants
- Calcium channel blockers
- Water pills
Side Effects of Magnesium
The most common side effects of magnesium include:
- Abdominal cramps
In some extreme cases, magnesium can even lead to some severe and potentially life-threatening side effects. These are usually caused by very high doses of magnesium and include:
- Decreased blood pressure
- Abnormal heartbeat
- Respiratory depression
In very rare and severe cases, this can lead to cardiac arrest, coma, or even death.
Patients suffering from RLS symptoms can try taking magnesium supplements or increasing the intake of magnesium-rich foods. However, they need to make sure they are not taking any medication that can be affected by magnesium. If they have any medical conditions that can be worsened by it, they need to exercise caution while supplementing the mineral. Also, they must consult with their health practitioner in all cases.
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