I started really noticing my restless leg syndrome around the time I went vegan (particularly when I was trying to go to sleep).
Naturally, I thought it was related.
There are a few possible causes of restless leg syndrome (RLS) that might be caused by a vegan diet.
I’m going to go over those possible causes in more detail here.
Possible Causes of Restless Leg Syndrome That a Vegan Diet Can Affect
Restless leg syndrome still hasn’t quite been figured out.
Researchers have identified many possible causes, but sometimes the cause just isn’t obvious.
Here’s a list of the most common causes:
- Vitamin D Deficiency
- Iron deficiency
- Kidney failure
- Spinal cord conditions
- Nerve damage (from diseases like diabetes and alcoholism)
- Taking a long time to get to sleep (see different types of insomnia)
- Sensitive nerve leg cells
A vegan diet would only really affect those first two.
Both vitamin D and iron are harder to get on a vegan diet.
The most likely issue, however, is iron deficiency.
The good news is that there are multiple solutions (like taking an iron supplement), which I’ll go over shortly.
Why is Iron Deficiency Common in Vegans
There are 3 reasons that vegans often struggle with maintaining healthy iron levels:
- It’s harder to find iron-rich plant-based foods
- The type of iron that is dominant in plants (non-heme) isn’t as easy to absorb as the iron in animal products (heme)
- Iron absorption also depends on vitamin B12, which vegans lack if they don’t regularly take B12 supplements.
If you’re not paying special attention to iron when you first go vegan, it’s easy to find yourself in a deficit.
A deficiency can cause restless leg syndrome, on top of other RLS symptoms like fatigue or weakness.
Start by getting enough iron. Use a food tracking app like Cronometer to see if you’re getting enough iron. If you’re not, refer to this list of the best vegan iron sources and focus on including more of them (all the classic “vegan health foods” have lots of iron like beans and leafy greens – i.e. spinach).
If you still can’t meet the RDA for iron, consider getting a vegan iron supplement.
Next, you should always try to consume iron alongside vitamin C, which makes a big difference in how well you absorb it.
Finally, soaking any legumes you eat will reduce their phytate content. Phytates bind to minerals like iron and prevent absorption, so getting rid of them will help you absorb more.
Be Cautious of Magnesium Supplements
Getting too little or too much magnesium can be a problem.
There is some concern that magnesium can interfere with the absorption of iron and lead to deficiency.
Magnesium is often found in laxatives, and of course in certain supplements (either just magnesium supplements or multivitamins).
If you’re getting too much magnesium, it may also be a potential factor in your RLS symptoms.
However, research also shows that magnesium supplements can help treat RLS. If you suspect you’re deficient in it, here’s a list of the best vegan magnesium supplements.
When to See a Doctor for Treatment of Restless Legs
If you’re getting restless legs on a regular basis, you should see a doctor.
Be on the safe side, get checked out, and get a blood test to check your serum ferritin level (i.e. iron levels) while you’re at it.
While the cause may be as simple as not getting enough vitamin D, it could be a serious iron deficiency that requires intravenous iron (iron infused into your veins directly).
Or, your RLS could be completely unrelated to iron and be caused by a serious underlying disease or just stress (leading to insomnia). One other potential solution to try is picking some vegan melatonin.