Muscle cramps can be caused by a shortage of essential electrolytes in your system. Dr. Tina Marcantel is a naturopathic doctor in Gilbert who also serves the East Valley cities of Mesa, Queen Creek, Scottsdale, Apache Junction, Tempe, Chandler, and the surrounding area.
Summer has arrived, and for us here in the Valley of the Sun that means some serious heat is on the way. As the temperatures push past the 100 degree mark in Phoenix, we thought it was a good time to offer a few “beat the heat” health tips. By the way, you don’t have to live in a desert climate to benefit from these reminders—hot is hot wherever you may be!
Muscle cramps—and particularly, leg cramps—are a common complaint for people who spend a lot of time in the heat. In fact, Dr. Marcantel has had a number of patients come to her on prescription medications to control cramps. While medications may be helpful, it makes sense to take a look at the root cause of what is causing the cramps, and that cause may be as simple as a shortage of electrolytes in your system.
Electrolytes conduct electrical impulses in our bodies and are essential to help our muscles and nerves work properly. The most common electrolytes in the human body are magnesium, calcium, potassium, and sodium and if these are not maintained in proper levels one result can be cramps.
As we pointed out in Tip #1, drinking plenty of water is important. But drinking water isn’t always enough. As a matter of fact, if you are drinking distilled bottled water on a regular basis you may be contributing to the problem. Here’s why: Drinking large amounts of water tends to flush toxins from the body, but it can also flush out important electrolytes. Distilled water tends to be very low in electrolytes, so if you do drink bottled water, try using Smart Water or the Trader Joe’s brand of electrolyte-enhanced water. Dr. Marcantel doesn’t recommend most sports drinks like Gatorade because of their high sugar and calorie content.
The most important source of electrolytes is the food you eat. Be sure to make potassium-rich foods like avocados, spinach, mushrooms, tomato sauce, broccoli, bananas, and pineapples a regular part of your diet. Pumpkin seeds, cashews, and walnuts are good sources of magnesium.
Still, for those who spend a lot of time in the heat or exercise regularly, diet may not be enough to meet the body’s need for electrolytes. If you are experiencing cramps, try taking calcium, magnesium, or potassium supplements as needed. We’ve had many patients who have suffered with cramps for years who have been amazed to find that by simply taking a dose of one of these supplements before going to bed they are able to sleep through the night without experiencing the pain of leg cramps.
If muscle cramps are a consistent problem for you, you may want to have your doctor check your electrolyte levels. A simple blood test can determine if you are lacking in specific nutrients. In that case, your health care provider can work with you to find targeted nutritional supplements and dosages to relieve your symptoms.