Nothing ruins a good night’s sleep faster than a sudden leg cramp. One minute you are sleeping peacefully, and the next you are wide awake and in excruciating pain.
If you ask a physician for a medication to prevent or treat muscle cramps, chances are good that you will get a blank stare. There are no FDA-approved drugs to solve this common problem.
At one time, health workers prescribed quinine.
This ancient herbal remedy, derived from the bark of a Peruvian cinchona tree, was used for decades to relieve restless legs syndrome and nighttime leg cramps.
But the FDA banned its use for anything except malaria. That’s because quinine can cause serious side effects, including headache, rash, ringing in the ears, nausea, dizziness, and blurred vision.
The most dangerous complications are blood disorders that could lead to life-threatening hemorrhages.
With quinine no longer available in pill form, some people drink tonic water containing quinine to get relief.
The only problem is that you have to drink a lot of tonic to get an effective dose.
That said, a great many readers tell us that just a glass or two of tonic water solves their problem.
What works for one person may be a total disappointment for another, but over the years we have collected a variety of remedies. Some people insist that a glass of low-sodium V-8 juice is the ticket. Others prefer bananas or other potassium-rich foods.
Magnesium supplements are widely applauded, though magnesium should be avoided by people with kidney disease.
Excess magnesium can also get you running to the bathroom. (Remember that milk of magnesia is a laxative.)
One of the most popular treatments is plain yellow mustard.
One reader reported: “My mother has leg cramps almost every night. Because of your column on yellow mustard, I got a huge supply of individually wrapped mustard packets.
“She keeps them on her nightstand and in her purse. When a leg cramp starts, she swallows the mustard and the cramps disappear immediately.”
Why the mustard works remains a bit of a mystery. Perhaps it is the yellow spice turmeric, which contains curcumin, a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. It might also be the salt or the vinegar.
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