Iron, Ferritin & Restless Leg Syndrome: What's the Connection?
Everything you need to know about the connection between Iron, Ferritin, and restless leg syndrome.
Updated December 13, 2023.
Daneisha Govender is a medical researcher with expertise in molecular and cell biology and biochemistry. Her research led to a publication on vitamin D and gene methylation. As an Epistolary Pedagogies Writing Fellow, she honed scientific writing and communication skills.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder up to 10% of the U.S. population may have.  It's characterized by an overwhelming urge to move the legs, often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations. But what's the connection between RLS and iron deficiency or low ferritin levels?
Overview of RLS and iron connection
What's your body lacking when you have restless legs? There's a potential link between iron deficiency or low ferritin levels and restless legs. Low iron levels can even affect brain oxygenation, which may exacerbate RLS symptoms. 
Iron is crucial for your body since it plays a role in dopamine synthesis, which controls muscle function. Iron deficiency can heighten brain and spinal cord neuron excitability, leading to RLS symptoms. This includes the urge to move the legs to relieve discomfort.
Anemia is often the result of iron deficiency and frequently leads to reduced oxygen delivery to tissues.
Ferritin level thresholds
Ferritin is a protein in your body that helps store iron. There's a connection between ferritin levels and RLS, but there aren't universally established thresholds to prevent RLS. However, individuals with levels below 50 ng/mL might be at a higher risk of developing RLS. 
To mitigate this risk, maintain healthy iron levels through a balanced diet. Additionally, consult with a healthcare provider for a personalized assessment.
Other potential deficiencies
RLS might also indicate deficiencies in other essential nutrients, such as:
- Iron: A mineral that plays a vital role in blood oxygen transport. 
- Folate: An important vitamin for red blood cell production. 
- Magnesium: Necessary mineral for proper muscle and nerve function.
What's the difference between iron and ferritin?
Your body needs to have a certain amount of iron in circulation to carry oxygen to cells. Ferritin is the protein that binds to iron for storage. Iron is released from storage when the body requires more to function properly.
Treatment and management
Managing RLS can be challenging, but understanding the role of iron and ferritin can provide some clarity on effective treatment strategies.
Addressing underlying iron deficiency through iron supplementation or increasing ferritin levels can be an effective treatment for RLS.
Iron deficiency and restless legs
Treating iron deficiency is important in RLS. Restoring iron levels improves dopamine and reduces abnormal sensations for some individuals.
Recommended iron intake
Managing your iron intake is important for managing RLS, as iron plays a role in producing myelin, a protective sheath that covers nerves.
For managing RLS, consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice so you know exactly how much iron to take for restless leg syndrome. Self-prescribing can be harmful, so always seek guidance from your physician.
Expert tips for alleviating RLS
If you have RLS, adopting certain self-care strategies and making lifestyle adjustments can provide both immediate relief and long-term management of symptoms. While there's currently no treatment to stop RLS immediately, there are lifestyle adjustments and interventions that can help relieve its symptoms.
Here are some lifestyle adjustments:
- Establish a regular sleep schedule
- Get regular exercise
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol, especially in the evening
- Take a warm bath or shower before bed
The interplay of iron, ferritin, and RLS
RLS isn't just a standalone ailment. It's intertwined with our body's iron levels and overall health. From immediate lifestyle strategies like leg massages and warm baths to long-term lifestyle adjustments such as a balanced diet and regular exercise, managing RLS is a holistic endeavor.
A platform like InsideTracker offers comprehensive biomarker analyses, tailored action plans, and a wealth of resources to help you understand your health state and how to improve it. However, it's not meant to diagnose or treat medical conditions. For any medically related concerns, consult a qualified healthcare professional.