Mustard For Leg Cramps and Burns, Myth or Fact?

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2013-09-11 07:16

For some time, people have been spreading stories about how you can use mustard for leg cramps, burns, and back pain. Like many such health claims, the tales begin with a kernel of truth that becomes elaborated upon and distorted with each telling. So what about mustard?

Can mustard help your leg cramps?

First of all, what is mustard? A recipe for simple yellow mustard includes water, vinegar, mustard seeds, turmeric, and salt. Two teaspoons of mustard seed are an excellent source of the mineral selenium (which may help with asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, among other conditions), and a good to fair source of magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, manganese, and phosphorus.

Football players and other athletes are sometimes told by their coaches to swallow a few spoons of mustard to fight off leg cramps. One reason mustard may be effective for this purpose is because the condiment contains acetic acid (in vinegar), which prompts the body to produce more acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that prompts muscles to work.

For many people, however, leg cramps occur at night while they sleep and not while engaged in sports. Such cramps may be caused by dehydration (which can be associated with diarrhea, insufficient fluid intake, excessive sweating), a deficiency of calcium, potassium, and/or magnesium, or for reasons unknown.

So if you frequently experience leg cramps during the night, should you sleep with a squeeze bottle of mustard under your pillow? Anecdotal evidence says you may, as a search of the Internet finds many people who claim a few good squirts of mustard during the night sends their cramps off into the darkness.

Could it be the acetic acid or the magnesium in mustard that does the trick? Mustard does contain a fair amount of magnesium, which has been shown to help relieve leg cramps. In fact, one way to ward off these painful cramps is to be sure to include enough magnesium in your diet or to take magnesium supplements.

According to a recent report in the American Family Physician, nighttime leg cramps occur in up to 60 percent of adults. The authors noted that exercise, stretching or “medications such as magnesium, calcium channel blockers, carisoprodol, or vitamin B12” can be helpful.

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