‘Restless legs’ may up cardiovascluar disease risk, and what to do about it

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is characterised by an uncomfortable sensation in the legs which gives rise to an overwhelming urge to move them. The symptoms of this condition typically come on when individuals are in lying down in bed. This condition overlaps with another known as ‘periodic limb movements during sleep’ (PLMS), in which involuntary jerks of the muscles occur at night. RLS and PLMS may disturb sleep, but research published this week suggests another potential downside of these conditions in the form of elevated blood pressure. A study published in the journal Neurology has found that during attacks of PLMS at night blood pressure rises appreciably (systolic and diastolic blood pressure rose by an average of 22 and 11 points respectively) [1]. The authors of this study have suggested these peaks in blood pressure associated with RLS and PLMS might boost sufferers’ risk of cardiovascular conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

I have previously written about RLS and PLMS (see below) and how, in my experience, their symptoms often respond well to supplementation with the mineral magnesium. If you are (or someone you know is) a sufferer, then my advice is to give this natural remedy a try, though do bear in mind it can take two or three months for positive effects to be felt.

It is perhaps worth bearing in mind that more magnesium in the body may not just hep quell the symptoms of RLS and PLMS. This mineral has a myriad of actions in the body and has been particularly linked with lower cardiovascular disease risk [2,3]. For those with RLS and PLMS, supplementation with magnesium may therefore have both short- and long-term benefits for the body.


1. Pennestri MH, et al. Nocturnal blood pressure changes in patients with restless legs syndrome. Neurology. 2007;68(15):1213-8.

2. Chakraborti S, et al. Protective role of magnesium in cardiovascular diseases: a review. Mol Cell Biochem. 2002;238(1-2):163-79.

3. Ueshima K. Magnesium and ischemic heart disease: a review of epidemiological, experimental, and clinical evidences. Magnes Res. 2005;18(4):275-84.

Restless legs article – 10 April 2005

A recent report from Surrey University informs us that British women get significantly less sleep than their male counterparts. This may not come as too much of a surprise bearing in mind that it is usually mums, rather than dads, who provide the bulk of child-care duties during the night. However, it turns out that a more persistent cause of wakefulness in women is not children, but grown-ups. The study identified, amongst other things, fidgeting of their sleeping partners throughout the night as a frequent factor in female insomnia. According to the report, the sleep shortage that often ensues can heighten stress and cause considerable conflict in relationships. It seems that male restlessness in bed can move some women to tears.

A common underling feature in the nightmare that night-time fidgeting can be is a condition known as restless legs syndrome (RLS). This condition is characterised by an uncomfortable sensation in the legs which gives rise to an overwhelming urge to move them. This condition overlaps with another known as periodic limb movements during sleep (PLMS), in which involuntary jerks of the muscles occur at night. There is some evidence that caffeine can worsen or trigger the symptoms of RLS, and my experience in practice is that this seems to be true of PLMS too. Those suffering from one or both of these conditions may benefit from a significant reduction or complete elimination of coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks from their diets.

Another nutritional strategy that may be effective in relieving RLS and PLMS is to boost levels of magnesium in the body. Magnesium is crucial to normal muscle function and, in practice, a deficiency in the nutrient does seem to be a common underlying factor in RLS and PLMS. Other symptoms of a deficit in magnesium include cramp and muscle twitching. I find that in individuals who experience either of these symptoms, even on an occasional basis, low levels of magnesium are likely. Those keen to increase their intake of magnesium can do this by emphasising nuts and seeds in their diets. In addition, I recommend supplementing with 350 – 500 mg of magnesium each day. As it can take a while for magnesium levels to build up in the body, the full benefit of supplementation may not be seen for two or three months.

Another nutrient quite commonly deficient in sufferers of RLS and PMLS is iron. This mineral is important for the production of the brain chemical dopamine, a deficiency of which can cause disturbance in body movement. I have found that iron deficiency is not so commonly a factor in night-time restlessness as a deficit in magnesium. However, low iron levels are well worth considering, especially in individuals prone to this such as vegans, vegetarians and women of child-bearing age. Overall levels of iron in the body are best assessed by measuring the level of a substance called ferritin in the blood. In practice, giving additional iron to individuals with ferritin levels that are low or on the low side can help to relieve the symptoms of RLS and PLMS. My experience is that for those prone to nocturnal fidgeting and their partners, nutritional therapies can be the dream ticket.

3 Responses to ‘Restless legs’ may up cardiovascluar disease risk, and what to do about it

  1. Margaret 23 April 2007 at 8:51 am #

    I sometimes find that restless legs stop me sleeping, but in my experience this is because I haven’t had enough exercise during the day. Is this another case of “medicalising” something very simple? Lack of exercise is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and could explain the link found in the studies.

  2. Patricia Cobbett 27 October 2007 at 9:05 am #

    Magnesium is the answer for me. I have a magnesium injection once a month and it gets rid of the problem.

  3. Maria Hobden 26 January 2009 at 5:11 pm #

    I have had severe RLS for 5 years, I have all sorts of medication, but the only that I have found that works for me in Pramipexole (mirapexin) is it medication used to treat parkinsons decease, it has reduced my sypmtoms but has not got rid of them completely.

Leave a Reply