Cramps are painful but common involuntary muscle contractions. Muscle cramps can affect different parts of the body; in the leg, they can occur anywhere from the foot to the calf. They can happen to anyone, but are particularly common in athletes, older adults and pregnant women. They're often associated with nutritional deficiencies or other health issues.
Muscle Cramps and Vitamin Deficiency
Nearly everyone has experienced a muscle cramp at some point. These unpleasant spasms are known for being involuntary, unexpected and painful and are related to a wide range of different health issues, including nutritional deficiencies. Leg cramps are more common in women than in men, and they typically increase as people age.
Nutritional Supplements to Treat Cramps
Muscle cramps, especially in your legs, can occur for many different reasons, resulting in many scientific studies reporting mixed findings on the value of using nutritional supplements to prevent or treat them. Vitamins and minerals for muscle spasms almost always work, but finding the right one to use as a treatment is a more complicated matter. There is no standard treatment for leg cramps, even for common ones, like those related to pregnancy.
Historically, muscle cramps were often caused by vitamin D deficiencies. Vitamin D deficiency caused numbness and tingling in the limbs that could lead to spasms, then cramps. These days, however, vitamin D supplementation hasn't been shown to resolve muscle cramps, even in people with low vitamin D levels.
Magnesium is now one of the most common nutritional deficiencies associated with muscle cramps. Oral magnesium has been shown to alleviate the frequency and intensity of muscle cramps in pregnant women and athletes, but it may not help older adults who suffer from these annoying and painful incidents.
Electrolyte deficiencies and dehydration can also cause muscle cramps. If you're exercising or sweating, be sure to drink water and make sure your electrolyte levels, especially those of sodium, are in check. Keeping your electrolytes balanced will allow you to rehydrate your body more effectively and prevent muscle cramps.
Although other vitamins, minerals, nutritional supplements and medications are often given to treat muscle cramps, they often aren't very effective or don't help at all. Talk with your doctor if you're experiencing muscle cramps so you can work out the treatment that's best for you.
- Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics: Randomised clinical trial: oral taurine supplementation versus placebo reduces muscle cramps in patients with chronic liver disease
- Sports Science Exchange: Sodium: The Forgotten Nutrient
- Wisconsin Medical Journal: Muscle Cramps Do Not Improve With Correction of Vitamin D Insufficiency
- Maternal and Child Nutrition: Oral magnesium for relief in pregnancy‐induced leg cramps
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Exercise and mineral status of athletes: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron
- Muscle & Nerve: Muscle Cramps
- Journal of the American Dietetic Association: Water: An Essential but Overlooked Nutrient
- Sleep Medicine Clinics: Sleep-Related Leg Cramps: A Review and Suggestions for Future Research
- BMJ Clinical Evidence: Leg Cramps
- Age and Ageing: A review of nocturnal leg cramps in older people