Restless legs syndrome: causes and treatment

Restless legs syndrome: causes and treatment


Cause(s) of restless legs syndrome (RLS) are not clear at present and it appears there are a number of factors involved. One of them is excess weight and it seems being overweight is an important contributing factor. As our weight increases so does your risk for RLS according to the 2009 study by the Harvard Medical School (1).  

In the study researchers surveyed 88,000 men and women and found that those who were generally obese, with a body mass index higher than 30, were at 40% higher risk of developing RLS. Moreover, those with a high waist circumference had an even higher risk—60%. Scientists think that the levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain which controls both movement and the pleasurable feeling from eating, may be involved.

According to the Harvard study, the higher risks seem to lie in lower levels of dopamine which transmits signals between nerve cells and controls movement. Though scientists don’t exactly know why, lower dopamine levels are associated with Parkinson’s disease, as well as restless legs syndrome. Consequently losing weight overtime becomes of at most importance as it should alleviate and eventually correct RLS in many cases.

RLS can also develop in people who are not overweight, and in this case it has been linked to excessive nerve related inflammation. In such cases, specific nutrition and supplements supporting nerve health can make a real difference in symptoms.

Thirdly, it has been postulated that one of the causes of RLS is low iron. Research shows that enough iron is needed in the brain stem where pain signal is registered, and iron deficiency may cause pain by altering the structure and function of the brain stem which is reflected in altered nerve function that facilitates pain. This could be the case even if the iron blood test results are within the ‘normal’ ranges but fall towards the lower range of the spectrum.  

In summary, more research is needed to pin point causes of RLS. Thankfully, nutrition and selective supplements tailored for each individual do make a difference as they play an important role in dealing with RLS at present. This includes providing nutrients that help to reduce inflammation, to heal the nerves and increase production of dopamine in the brain.

Weight loss is of crucial importance (where needed), and diet high in iron, as well as high quality iron supplements are important considerations.

As always, work with a knowledgeable health practitioner when undertaking any nutritional and/or supplementation programs, especially when you are also taking prescription medications.

Good health and blessings

Joanna Sochan
Adrenal Fatigue and Digestive Health Expert
Naturopath || Herbalist || Nutritionist || Reiki Practitioner


  • Gao X, Schwarzschild MA, Wang H, Ascherio A. Obesity and restless legs syndrome in men and women. Neurology. 2009 April. Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.

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  1. David Wimble September 11, 2013 at 2:44 am - Reply


    Inflammation is believed to be a key factor when it comes to Restless Legs Syndrome.

    Results of a scientific study were published in the January 14, 2012 issue of “Sleep Medicine Review Journal” that supports this theory. You can read that study here:

    You can view the results of other related scientific studies and learn about some helpful solutions at this RLS information website:

    Inflammation can also cause glutamate levels to increase, which makes the brain hyperactive when you’re trying to sleep. You can read about that here:

    A blog for RLS sufferers with helpful tips can be found here:

    A Facebook page as well:

    Also new evidence that RLS is not hereditary as we first thought:

    The solution is a combination of a proper anti-inflammatory diet as well as introducing natural supplements and key vitamins & minerals into your daily life.

    In regard to your mention of the low iron count, several studies have shown that a presence of inflammation in the body can skewer iron level readings. So, people that get checked for their iron levels and find out that the levels are fine, may not be getting a true reading if they in fact have chronic inflammation.

    As I’m sure you’re aware, chronic inflammation is also deeply linked with obesity.


    • Joanna Sochan September 17, 2013 at 5:05 pm - Reply

      Thank you David! Your contribution and additional information on RSL is much appreciated.

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