Almost everyone experiences at least one painful leg cramp at some point in life, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Potassium, a mineral which, if you have a deficiency, could cause leg cramps, plays an important role in muscle contraction. Increasing the potassium you consume may help decrease leg cramps. However, don'tt take a potassium supplement without talking to your doctor first.
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Potassium and Leg Cramps
Low levels of potassium in the blood, known as hypokalemia, affects the transmission of nerve impulses, the contraction of muscles and the ability of your heart to function. Low potassium levels often lead to muscle weakness, muscle cramps and fatigue. Common causes of low potassium levels include diuretics that cause you to excrete potassium in your urine, alcoholism, severe diarrhea, excessive vomiting, overuse of laxatives, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, congestive heart failure, magnesium deficiency and the consumption of large amounts of black licorice.
When you consume enough potassium to meet your body’s needs, it helps decrease your chance of experiencing leg cramps caused by potassium deficiency. MedlinePlus indicates that the recommended dietary intake of potassium for anyone over 14 is 4.7 g per day. Lactating women should consume 5.1 g of potassium per day. Potassium intake recommendations for children are 3 g per day for children ages 1 to 3, 3.8 g per day for kids between 4 and 8, and 4.5 g per day for children between 9 and 13. If you are at risk of developing a potassium deficiency, consult your doctor to determine how much potassium you should try to get each day.
While you can get potassium through dietary supplements, it is safer to get your potassium through your diet. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, foods containing the most potassium include tomato paste, orange juice, beet greens, white beans, dates, raisins, baked potatoes with the skin, white grapefruit juice, au gratin potatoes, soybeans, lima beans, trail mix, halibut, hashed brown potatoes, tomato sauce, sweet potatoes, papayas and lettuce. If you decide to take potassium supplements, consult your doctor. Potassium supplements place you at risk of side effects, drug interactions and hyperkalemia, which is excess potassium in the blood.
In addition to increasing your intake of potassium to the recommended levels, try implementing some simple home remedies to help prevent and relieve leg cramps. Stay well hydrated and stretch regularly, especially before and after any workout. To help relieve a leg cramp, stop what you are doing and stretch the muscle. A gentle massage and the application of a cold compress will also help relax the muscle. Apply heat later in the day if the muscle cramp leaves you with residual muscle soreness.