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There’s nothing quite as frustrating as restless leg syndrome.
Crawling into bed only to be plagued by those tickling, crawling or aching sensations in your legs can make getting a good night’s sleep difficult, to say the least.
Sadly, for far too long, the cause of RLS has been poorly understood, leaving anyone living with the condition to suffer endlessly.
Luckily, there’s hope on the horizon with research showing a crucial link between a common vitamin deficiency and a neurotransmitter that may kick off the restless legs cycle…
Dopamine signaling and legs that just won’t quit
That neurotransmitter is known as dopamine, which is a molecule that is used by your brain to send out specialized messages about motor control and muscle movement.
Dopamine sends an “off signal” that relaxes your leg muscles. But if you don’t have enough of the neurotransmitter in your cells, those “off messages” get lost and your “on light” just keeps shining.
That’s why you feel like you have to move your legs continuously or else suffer all of those creepy crawlies. And, because of this, RLS is believed to be the result of issues in the brain’s dopamine pathways.
So how do those dopamine pathways become compromised due to a vitamin deficiency?
The sunshine vitamin and dopamine
Well, first it’s important to understand that the vitamin we’re talking about here is vitamin D — otherwise known as “the sunshine vitamin.”
And it plays a powerful role in regulating the development and functioning of your brain cells, specifically your dopaminergic neurons.
It also increases the amount of dopamine in the motor cortex of your brain (the area that sends those “I have to move” signals to your legs), which means it could help switch the signal from on to off when you hit the sheets each night.
What the research says about the connection
This is a fact that was backed up by a 2012 study that found that people with decreased vitamin D levels suffered from increased RLS severity.
And the evidence stacked up further with 2014 research that discovered that taking vitamin D supplements significantly improved RLS symptoms.
Now, there was one study in 2018 that was unable to show improvement in RLS symptoms with vitamin D supplementation. However, even the researchers who performed the study said they felt the results would have been much different if they had given participants higher levels of the vitamin or provided supplementation for a longer period.
Fast forward to research from December 2021 and the vitamin D connection to RLS seems cut and dry…
That’s because when researchers examined patients with RLS that were treated in the Department of Neurology at the First Hospital of Hebei Medical University from October 2019 to October 2020 and compared them to a control group, they saw:
- Serum vitamin D levels were significantly lower in patients with RLS than in the healthy control group.
- The incidence of insufficient serum vitamin D levels was significantly higher in patients with RLS than in the healthy control group.
- The serum vitamin D levels were significantly lower in (extremely) severe patients with RLS than in mild to moderate patients with RLS.
All of this led these researchers to conclude that “The serum VitD level is generally lower in patients with RLS than in healthy people, and lower serum VitD level is associated with more severe symptoms of RLS, worse quality of sleep, and worse depression.”
Upping your vitamin D levels to up your sleep levels
So if RLS is keeping you up at night, increasing your vitamin D levels to support your brain’s dopamine pathways could help you find the relief you’d given up on.
Easy ways to raise your D levels include:
- Taking a D3 supplement – 5,000 IUs of vitamin D is a therapeutic amount to raise low levels.
- Spending more time outside – Your body naturally makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the UV rays of the sun, so getting out into the bright morning sunshine can help.
- Eating vitamin D-rich foods – Certain foods like cold-water fish, mushrooms and eggs can help raise your blood levels of vitamin D.
Restless Legs Syndrome is beyond frustrating. But there is relief in sight when you take steps to combat vitamin D deficiency.
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Is There a Link Between Vitamin D and Restless Legs Syndrome? – Restless Legs Syndrome A Sleep-Disorders.net community