Can Certain Foods Help Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a health condition that affects between 7 and 10 percent of the population. It can cause daytime sleepiness, impaired memory, and even anxiety and depression.1,2

Certain lifestyle changes, like getting regular exercise and cutting down on caffeine, may help you feel better. What you eat can also play a role in how you feel. In fact, research shows that adding certain foods into your diet may help relieve the symptoms of RLS.1,2

How can iron, magnesium, B12, and folate help?

People with RLS may not be getting enough of certain nutrients, such as iron. One study found that some people with RLS had a deficiency in brain iron. Another study found that iron therapy probably improves the severity of RLS symptoms.3,4

While there is not a lot of research on magnesium and RLS, it is known that low levels of this mineral can affect other health conditions. This, in turn, can affect RLS symptoms. People may not have enough magnesium because of poor nutrition or lifestyle choices, and older adults are at additional risk because they do not absorb this nutrient as well.5

Supplementing your diet with vitamin B12 and folate may reduce or alleviate RLS symptoms if you have an underlying vitamin deficiency. However, as is the case with all vitamin and mineral supplements, only take them if your doctor recommends that you do.6

Whether or not you take supplements, you can still get iron, magnesium, folate, and vitamin B12 from your meals. Plus, you do not have to go far to find them. These minerals are found in a wide variety of foods that are easy to find at your supermarket.

Foods that have iron

Iron is found in many different types of foods. These include:7

  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Fruits, especially raisins and prunes
  • Green vegetables like kale, broccoli, and collard greens
  • Meat, poultry, and seafood
  • Whole grain, enriched, and fortified breads
  • Cereals, pasta, and rice

The iron in food is either heme and non-heme. Meat, poultry and seafood contain heme iron, which is better absorbed by your body than non-heme iron. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods like spinach and beans. This form is not absorbed as easily as the iron in meat. However, you can increase your absorption of iron from plant foods by eating them either with meat or with a food that is rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, and kiwi.8

Foods that have magnesium

Increasing the amount of magnesium in your diet is easier than you might think. Foods that contain magnesium include:5,7

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Cereals
  • Fruit, especially bananas and raisins
  • Potatoes
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and pumpkin seeds
  • Dairy products

Foods that contain fiber usually have some magnesium, but some types of foods tend to lower magnesium levels in your body. These culprits include high-carb foods, sugar, carbonated beverages, caffeine, and alcohol.5,7

Foods rich in B12

Boosting your B12 intake can also help with RLS symptoms. This vitamin is found in a wide range of foods, including:7,9

  • Fortified cereals
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Meat and poultry
  • Seafood like clams, trout, salmon, haddock, and tuna

Adding folate to your diet

Among the 8 well-known B vitamins that are important for your body, folate (folic acid) is a key nutrient. You can find it in foods like:7,9

  • Oranges
  • Beans and peas
  • Avocados
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Enriched grain products like bread, cereal, pasta, and rice

Other RLS triggers in your diet

Eating meals that are rich in protective nutrients may be an important step in reducing your RLS symptoms. However, other common triggers in your diet can aggravate your RLS. These include:10

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Carbohydrates and refined sugars
  • Foods that are high in sodium

In short, if you stick to a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you may feel better – and most likely, you will sleep better, too.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.