Minerals play a direct role in muscle activity through your body’s nervous system. If you experience painful muscle cramps, you may have an imbalance in major electrolytes (minerals), like calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium.
Minerals are comprised of positively and negatively charged parts that regulate electrical activity in your body. Your body’s muscles need an electrical impulse to be able to move. Specialised nerves touch muscles throughout your body to transmit electrical impulses like short messages, making your muscles contract and relax.
When your muscle cramp, your body’s supply of charged minerals are usually not in balance and unable to effectively conduct nerve impulses to help the muscles contract and relax. This leads to a loss of nervous system control of muscle in your body, causing muscle spasms and cramps.
Nerve-muscle interactions need sufficient minerals in proper balance to function. A regular supplementation of magnesium, calcium or sodium has proven benefit to restore mineral levels in your body.
Symptoms of muscle cramps
Muscles cramps or spasms can be painful and usually occur without warning. Signs or symptoms of a muscle cramp include:
- Sudden, painful muscle contraction
- Involuntary tightness or hardness in a muscle
- Frequent and severe cramping that can be disabling
- Usually occur when you’re resting
- All or part of one of more muscles in your body
Supplement benefits for muscle cramps
Clinicians have found, that correcting the balance of minerals, needed to conduct nerve signals in your body, can be an effective way to avoid muscle cramps.
Although most people get all the minerals needed in your body from a normal diet and drinking plenty of water, mineral supplements have been proven to restore and maintain the charged mineral balance in your body.
Supplements that can relieve muscle cramps include:
- Vitamin D
Magnesium for muscle cramps
In most people muscle cramps from a mineral deficiency are a result of low magnesium levels in your body. Magnesium is stored in your body mostly in your bones with the rest stored in your muscles and tissues. In your muscles, it plays an important role to help your nerves transmit signals to make contracted muscles in your body relax.
A deficiency of magnesium in your body means nerve signals in muscles are weaker, causing the muscles to frequently contract, cramp and spasm.
Most foods you eat contain magnesium, especially green vegetables and grains. A deficiency in magnesium levels usually occurs if you are not eating enough food that contains magnesium.
Research published in medical journals has found, taking magnesium supplements, in addition to eating more magnesium rich food, can effectively improve low magnesium levels in your body.
In 2002 researchers from the United Kingdom performed a randomised placebo-controlled trial on sufferers with chronic leg muscle contractions. The study participants reported, that taking 300mg of magnesium supplements, helped with their leg muscles cramps after six weeks.
Magnesium supplements can help ease muscle cramps by:
- Regulating nerve impulses to trigger muscles
- Help muscles contract and relax efficiently
- Reduce cramping of muscles
Calcium imbalance in muscle cramps
There are also individuals who don´t get enough calcium with their diet, which can cause painful muscles cramping.
Calcium is an essential mineral in your body that is stored in your bones and teeth to help stay strong. Small amounts of calcium are also used to help blood vessels in your body contract and relax, muscles perform and nerves transmits signals throughout your body, usually taken from reserves in your bones.
The role of charged calcium minerals is to turn the muscle ‘on’ and start the actual contraction process. When a nerve impulse stimulates muscle fibres to contract, voltage-dependent calcium channels on muscle and nerve cells open to allow the electrically charged calcium to flow into the muscle cells.
Calcium works as a team together with magnesium in muscle contraction and relaxation. A deficiency in calcium means magnesium levels are imbalanced causing the muscles to spasm.
Although a deficiency of calcium doesn’t occur from changes in your diet, experts from the US National Institutes of Health say, when calcium is needed in other parts of your body it is taken from your bones and teeth leading to bone loss.
As you age the more calcium is taken from your bones and over time can increase your risk for osteoporosis. You can keep up your levels of calcium to avoid bone loss, by taking dietary supplements to meet your body’s nutrient requirements.
Calcium supplements can help improve your body’s response to muscle spasms by:
- Increasing the calcium in your body to help muscles contract and relax
- Not rely on depleting calcium stores in your bones and teeth leading to bone loss as you age
- Improve the efficiency of magnesium on relieving muscle cramps
Sodium and muscle cramps
Sodium is an important mineral needed by the body that works together with potassium to trigger nerve impulses for muscle contraction. Sodium activates the voltage gated sodium channels on nerve cells to allow sodium to flow through inside the cells to stimulate an electrical impulse for the muscles to move.
Low levels of sodium in your body means your muscles do not have enough minerals to contract and relax. Nerves are unable to communicate properly with muscles, leading to muscle weakness, spasms and cramps.
Although there is not enough evidence to show the exact mechanism of restoring sodium levels in your body to relieve muscle cramps, sodium supplements have been found to improve the balance of sodium needed for efficient muscle movement.
Although sodium can be acquired by sodium chloride (known as salt) intake in your diet, levels of sodium can vary depending on your diet. Mineral sodium supplements can be beneficial for rapidly restoring levels in your body when there is an imbalance.
Who may benefit from taking supplements for muscle cramps?
- Adults performing long periods of athletic endurance, such as runners and cyclists
- Middle aged to older adults
- Pregnant women
- Adults with a chronic medical condition, such as multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy
- An anatomical condition, such as flat feet
Side effects of supplements for muscle cramps
Meta analyses have found magnesium supplements are usually well tolerated with few side effects. If side effects do occur they usually affect your gastrointestinal tract, and may include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, flatulence and constipation.
Large amounts of calcium can be harmful, with data demonstrating a significant association between a high calcium intake and heart disease in postmenopausal women. Although side effects from calcium supplements are not common, some may occur including gas, constipation, kidney stones and bloating.
As long as you keep drinking plenty of water, your kidneys can regulate an increased sodium intake. However excessive intakes of sodium are a major contributor of high blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for heart disease.
Supplements interactions and combinations
Magnesium can interact with certain medications that treat osteoporosis (bisphosphonates) and some antibiotics. If you are on these medications it is recommended to wait a few hours before and after before taking magnesium supplements. If you have high blood pressure, caution may be needed for magnesium supplements as it can cause interactions with calcium channel blocker medications.
Calcium supplements have the potential to interact with several types of medication, including some diuretics. Calcium supplements may also decrease the absorption of medications. For example, if you are on medication for high blood pressure, thyroid function, osteoporosis, epilepsy or Paget’s disease, make sure you consult your doctor before taking calcium supplements.
Sodium supplements generally have fewer interactions with other medications, but may reduce the efficacy of some antibiotics, such as chlorpropamide and cefpodoxime.
Why take a supplement for muscle cramps?
- Your dietary intake does not meet the needs of your body’s mineral requirements
- You find you are suffering from regular, disabling muscle cramps
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