Dealing with muscle cramps

Recurring muscle cramps are painful and surprisingly common. They are common in pregnancy, the elderly, children, the fit and active and are often associated with many diseases. But what are the causes and what's the cure? Dietician Karen Protheroe of the The Lean Aubergine Dietetic Services explains.


We have all heard the theory that they are caused by a nutrient deficiency specifically potassium, magnesium, sodium (salt) and calcium. However, although the supplement companies obviously strongly support these theories for financial reasons, the scientific studies do not.

The most interesting and original proposed cause I have heard came from the Arbor Clinical Nutrition Update by Dr Tony Helman who reported that it could be related to the fact that we don’t squat anymore (because of the modern toilet and chair) and therefore the muscles of ones legs are not being sufficiently stretched.

In those who get exercise associated muscle cramps, it seems that the main cause is not dehydration or loss of electrolytes or other minerals…the main cause seems to be muscle fatigue. Therefore the main goal of treatment for muscle cramping in those who exercise, is to prevent muscle fatigue by not overtraining and overheating, by eating and drinking sufficiently (and that includes drinking enough fluid as well as not over-hydrating) and by stretching ones muscles.

For those who suffer with muscle cramping not related to exercise, the bottom line is that if there is a deficiency of a nutrient such is magnesium or calcium, then supplementation may help to treat those muscle cramps.

However, those taking supplements for muscle cramps, know through personal experience, that it is hit-and-miss as to whether the treatment is successful.

And unfortunately that is what the scientific research says too. If you eat a balanced varied diet that includes five servings daily of fruit and vegetables and two to three servings of dairy, it is unlikely that you will be deficient in magnesium or potassium or calcium. Once again remember it is better to get nutrients from food rather than supplements as supplements can have negative or even dangerous side-effects (for example, high doses of magnesium can cause diarrhoea).

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