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Did Low-Sodium Diet Trigger Leg Cramps?

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Q. I happened across a study showing that low-sodium diets don't offer benefits to people who aren't otherwise at risk for heart disease. I realized that I've been religiously following a low sodium diet for years, since it was advised for the general population. I've completely lost my taste for salt and avoid it whenever possible, but I am not at risk for heart disease.

I wondered what would happen if I changed. So just for the heck of it, I began adding some sea salt to my food. (Sea salt tastes really good.)

After a while I noticed something odd. Whereas I had suffered screamingly painful leg cramps at night for years (as long as I had been avoiding salt), they disappeared. Coincidence? I think not.

A. Sodium has long been vilified by public health officials. An eight-year European study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (May 4, 2011) showed, however, that people consuming the least sodium in their diets had the highest mortality.

Another study found that low intake of sodium was linked to an increase in stress hormones (adrenaline, renin and aldosterone), which might have a negative impact on cardiovascular health (American Journal of Hypertension, Jan. 2012).

Those who are salt sensitive or who have heart disease may indeed benefit from a low-salt diet. Someone like you, though, may discover that too little sodium can sometimes have negative consequences. Many readers report that pickle juice or yellow mustard, both high in sodium, can help relieve muscle cramps. 

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8 Comments

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I too have found that just eating salt, a pinch when I get leg cramps at night, yes screamingly!, will stop them in less than a minute. Incredible but it works, the mustard works too...

I tend to run a low sodium - being 62, have for years... and it washed out quickly from my system drinking coffee & diuretics like teas and caffeine drinks. So I just replenish with salt in some form!
good luck!

I just read this comment. I eat salt everyday and I have severe leg and foot cramps (in bed at night which wakes me up). I'm thinking that perhaps I should decrease my salt intake due to this, not increase it.

Am taking 3 different kinds of hypertension medication,but one of this medications is a beta blocker and my cramping is getting worse,but even the picle juice has not helped can you suggests something else

Interesting. I too eat low-sodium foods, and avoid adding salt to any of my food. I don't like the taste of table salt. I don't even have a salt shaker. Still, I have borderline high blood pressure and I often suffer from RLS at night. I will try adding a bit of sea salt to my diet and see if that helps either one or both of my problems.

My dad suffers from liver cihrossis and is on a zero sodium diet to counter-act fluid retention.
The problem is the horrible cramps he suffers because of it. It is a real catch 22, and apart from taking magnesium pills to lessen the cramps, I am trying to find another solution?
If anybody has any ideas, or has similar issues, I would love to hear back.

Audrey, NZ

HAVE SINCE I LAST POSTED, Found CalMag & K+ work as well as adding Na+
Still keep mustard near but haven't been needing. Also keeping fluids up helps too.

"Everything in moderation including moderation itself" seems like a good start.

I have long suffered from painful cramps. At first they were in my calves at night, then later I started getting them in my hamstrings if I sat on the edge of a chair. Now I get them in my toes and in the arches of my feet nearly every morning, and also in muscles which run up the sides of my legs from my ankles. My hands frequently lock near my little fingers.

A doctor recently said that they are caused by excess calcium (not a deficiency) and I have tried to cut down on calcium rich foods. This is tricky because most dairy substitutes are enriched with calcium and also because it runs against everything we are told about osteoporosis (although that may well be exaggerated by advertisers). I still suffer a lot from these cramps, and broke my personal record about 3 weeks ago with 5 major ones in a single night.

Pointing my toes or sitting back on my heels instantly triggers cramps in my feet and sometimes they persist for up to 1/2 an hour. I take 150 g/day magnesium supplement. Any suggestions would be welcome.

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