Toe cramps can be extremely painful, so it's hard to believe that vitamin and mineral deficiencies could be the cause, but it's true. If you're not getting enough vitamin B12, calcium or magnesium, you may be left with some serious foot cramps or toe spasms that keep you up at night.
While you may think the simple solution is to use supplements, take a step back for a minute. Before you start taking vitamins for leg cramps or toe cramps, check in with your doctor. He or she will run lab tests that can pinpoint a specific deficiency or rule vitamin deficiencies out. From there, you'll be able to develop a proper, targeted treatment plan together.
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Deficiencies in nutrients like vitamin B12, calcium and magnesium can cause severe toe cramps as well as several other uncomfortable symptoms that interfere with your daily life. If you suspect you have a nutrient deficiency, make an appointment to see your doctor so you can figure out what's going on.
B12 and Toe Cramps
Your body uses vitamin B12 to make new red blood cells and DNA and keep your nerves healthy. If you become deficient in this nutrient, it may cause anemia, nerve damage and even degeneration of the spinal cord, according to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy. Because vitamin B12 plays a role in so many areas of your health, the symptoms of a deficiency can be widespread and non-specific, making diagnosis difficult.
In addition to toe cramps, numbness, tingling or other strange sensations in the hands and feet, low vitamin B12 levels can cause:
- Difficulty balancing
- Walking problems
- Swollen, inflamed tongue
- Memory loss
- Cognitive difficulties (problems with thinking and reasoning)
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, so the excess is eliminated in the urine, not stored for later use. Your body uses what it needs each day and then excretes anything that's left. You need to make sure you're getting enough of it each day to prevent a deficiency. Most adults need about 2.4 micrograms daily. Dietary sources of vitamin B12 include:
- Beef liver
- Nutritional yeast
While some people simply don't get enough of this vitamin (this is more common if you're following a vegetarian diet), others can't properly absorb it, no matter how much they consume. According to Harvard Health Publishing, about 3.2 percent of adults over the age of 50 have extremely low vitamin B12 levels, while 20 percent are toeing the line of developing a deficiency.
If you fall into the latter category, you may need vitamin B12 injections to meet your daily requirements for this nutrient. If you're deficient in vitamin B12, your doctor will pinpoint the underlying cause and determine the best treatment protocol for you.
Calcium and Toe Spasms
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body. About 99 percent of it is found in your bones and teeth, while the remaining 1 percent circulates through your body in your blood, according to a January 2015 report in Clinical Nutrition Research. Your body is really good at maintaining this balance of calcium, so most symptoms of a deficiency sometimes won't show up for a while.
That's because your body maintains the levels of calcium in your blood by pulling the mineral out of the bones. In the long term, this can lead to serious issues, like osteoporosis, but in the short term, it may cause uncomfortable symptoms, such as:
- Muscle (toe) cramps and spasms
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- Abnormal heart rhythm
According to Harvard Health Publishing, a calcium deficiency isn't usually caused by an inadequate intake of calcium. It develops as a result of not getting enough vitamin D, which helps your body absorb this mineral. Because of this, it's a good idea to make sure you're getting between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 600 to 800 IU of vitamin D every day.
Some good sources of calcium are dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese), kale, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, sardines and salmon, while vitamin D is found in cod liver oil, swordfish, salmon, sardines, beef liver, eggs and fortified milk.
Read more: Can a Person Overdose on Calcium?
Magnesium and Foot Cramps
Magnesium is another mineral that can cause serious muscle cramps in your toes and feet. That's because it plays a role in 300 different biochemical reactions that influence your health. Furthermore, about 90 percent of the magnesium in your body is found in your muscle, according to a January 2018 report published in the BMJ.
In the beginning stages of a magnesium deficiency, you may experience loss of appetite, vomiting, fatigue and weakness. If the deficiency isn't corrected and it worsens instead, it may eventually cause:
- Muscle cramps and contractions
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- Changes in personality
- Abnormal heart rhythms
If the deficiency worsens, it also affects other minerals, such as potassium and calcium, and can cause low levels of those minerals in the blood, according to the National Institutes of Health. If left untreated for too long, magnesium deficiency may even increase the risk of certain types of heart disease.
The BMJ report points out that most cases of magnesium deficiency go undiagnosed. With increasing reliance on refined and processed foods, the number of people with magnesium deficiencies is on the rise, even in developed countries like the United States.
You can avoid a magnesium deficiency by making sure you're getting 310 to 320 milligrams per day if you're a woman or 400 to 420 milligrams per day if you're a man. Some good sources of magnesium include:
- Black beans
The BMJ also notes that certain people may have to take magnesium supplements, which provide higher doses of the mineral, to meet their nutritional needs and prevent deficiencies. If you suspect that you're at risk, talk to your doctor or reach out to a qualified nutritionist. Do this before trying to self-treat your toe cramps for a suspected but unconfirmed deficiency.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Vitamin B12 Deficiency Can Be Sneaky, Harmful"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Remedies for Hand Cramps"
- The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy: "Nutritional and Vitamin Deficiency Neuropathy"
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Calcium"
- Clinical Nutrition Research: "The Role of Calcium in Human Aging"
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Magnesium"
- BMJ: "Subclinical Magnesium Deficiency: A Principal Driver of Cardiovascular Disease and a Public Health Crisis"
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Vitamin B12"
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Vitamin D"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.