Your body needs the essential mineral iron for your red blood cells to function properly as well as to transport and store oxygen in your blood and muscles. Iron also plays an important role in producing adenosine triphosphate, which provides your body with energy. Iron could have some benefits for you if you suffer from leg cramps, particularly at night. Talk to your doctor before taking an iron supplement to discuss the correct dosage and potential dangers.
Iron is an elemental mineral that is crucial to your blood, muscles, immune system and brain, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Your body stores iron in your bone marrow, muscles, spleen and liver, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center. In addition to an iron supplement, you can get iron from the foods you eat, including organ meats, red meats, shellfish, poultry, fish, green leafy vegetables, molasses, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fortified cereals. People who are deficient in iron often develop anemia and can potentially suffer from fatigue and an insufficient immune system. An iron deficiency can also cause cramps in your leg muscles or restless leg syndrome, which causes discomfort in your legs when you're lying down or sitting, according to MayoClinic.com. Restless leg syndrome can cause cramping, tingling and aching in your legs that's usually relieved only when you get up and walk around.
Taking an iron supplement could relieve the leg cramps and other associated symptoms of restless leg syndrome, according to MayoClinic.com. This is true if your leg cramps stem from an underlying iron deficiency. In addition to treating leg cramps and restless leg syndrome, iron supplements are also commonly recommended for preventing or treating iron deficiency anemia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, fatigue or low physical performance and certain side effects of agiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor medications, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Iron supplements might also help to preserve health in people with HIV/AIDS, improve sports performance, improve mental function in women, treat menorrhagia or heavy menstruation and stimulate saliva production, states the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
The daily recommended intake of iron for adult males is 8 mg, while the intake for adult women ages 19 to 50 years old is 18 mg, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Women who are 50 years of age and older need only 8 mg of iron per day, while pregnant women require 27 mg daily. The common therapeutic dosage of iron for treating leg cramps and restless leg syndrome is 100 to 200 mg per day until your iron deficiency is corrected. Because iron toxicity is sometimes fatal, your doctor should monitor your iron levels while you're taking the much higher therapeutic dosage, warns the University of Maryland Medical Center. You should take only the amount of iron supplements prescribed to you by your physician to prevent an overdose.
Although an iron deficiency can cause leg cramps and restless leg syndrome, it isn't the only potential cause. Other causes of restless leg syndrome and leg cramps include pregnancy, peripheral neuropathy, kidney failure and a genetic predisposition to restless leg syndrome, reports MayoClinic.com. Keep in mind that taking iron supplements won't help treat your leg cramps unless you have an iron deficiency.
You might experience side effects such as stomach upset while taking iron supplements, but taking large amounts of iron can cause liver and intestinal damage, potentially leading to death, cautions the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Excessively high iron levels can increase your risks for heart disease, stroke-related brain injury, cancer and pregnancy complications. Iron can also interact with certain medications and supplements. Taking vitamin C supplements can increase your iron absorption, while taking iron with calcium, soy, copper, manganese or zinc supplements could impair absorption. Iron can also interfere with medications like allopurinol, stomach-acid reducers and proton pump inhibitors, colestipol, cholestyramine, bisphosphonates, antacids, oral contraceptives, tetracycline or quinolone antibiotics, carbidopa, penicillamine, thyroid hormone, methyldopa, and levodopa. Perhaps most important, children are at a high risk for accidental iron poisoning and related death, warns the University of Maryland Medical Center. Always keep iron supplements out of the reach of children.