A loyal reader recently asked me to participate in an off-the-cuff, impromptu experiment. Justin had noticed that I had been having trouble with cramps at night. An avid runner, apparently he’s often plagued by cramps, too.
My cramping usually begins at 4 or 5 am, most always in my right calf and shin. By now I’ve tried just about everything for my cramps; drinking lots of tonic water, taking potassium. Chewing a couple Tums may or may not help. I’ve even tried the old “soap under the bedsheets” trick. Rubbing magnesium oil on my lower leg seems to improve things after I’m already awake and have hobbling around in the early morning hours for ten minutes or so, trying to walk them off. I do know that if I didn’t drink a lot of diet tonic water (quinine), they would be a lot worse.
Anyway, Justin wanted me to try two things at the first sign of cramps. First, drinking some pickle juice–I had heard about this home remedy before. The second suggestion was swallowing a couple tablespoons full of mustard.
Here’s an excerpt from the email he sent me:
The current theory (and the only one that passes the litmus test for me) is that there are receptors for either salt (even though we know that most cramping is NOT due to low electrolytes) or acetyl-choline (acetic acid is a shared ingredient between both the pickle juice and mustard and is used in the manufacturing of the muscle neurotransmitter), and this causes the brain to “reset” the muscle that is spasming. There are few other viable explanations because the cramp releases before any normal biological absorption and delivery to the muscle could have occurred.
So would you be willing to test this hypothesis out? Keep an ounce or two of pickle juice by your bed (or somewhere it can easily be accessed when you typically get cramps), or the aforementioned packet or two of mustard (much easier to stomach and portable; that is if you like mustard). At best you find a new “cure,” at worst you can curse my name while having a bad taste in your mouth!
So what did I learn?
Drinking pickle juice made me nauseous. And it didn’t help the cramping. I only tried that once. But mustard did seem to help. Not instantaneously, but the several times I’ve tried it my cramps eased sooner than if I had just grit my teeth and tried to tough-it-out.
Honestly, drinking a tall glass of water seems to help as much as anything. If nothing else it prevents a second round of cramping before I have to get up again to go to the bathroom! Still not enough? Substitute diet tonic water with a couple of Tums chasers.
Feel good and keep smiling! Pat