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The Response of the Medical Community to the Controversy Over Soap in the Bed

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by Derek H. Page

For ten years or so, there have been claims that nocturnal leg cramps can be alleviated by introducing a bar of soap into the bed. The evidence supporting these claims, while voluminous, is almost completely anecdotal. Medical professionals who contribute to this website believe, with a few exceptions, that there is no real effect. The apparently beneficial effects are either a consequence of using unreliable anecdotal evidence or are an example of the placebo effect. That is the stance of mainstream science according to the literature.

It is worthwhile to examine more closely why the medical community reacts in this way. I believe there are two major reasons. One comes from the training that all scientists receive. For many years it has been accepted that in the universe as we currently know it only three forces can act at a distance without the need for an intermediary medium. These forces are gravity, magnetism, and electricity (including electromagnetism). Scientists do not believe in extrasensory perception or telekinesis, because that would require postulating another force for which there is no evidence.

How then can soap at the bottom of the bed affect a cramp in the leg, since clearly none of these three forces are operating? Something must be physically transferred across the space between the soap and the source of pain in the leg. Since this seems improbable, it is concluded that the soap cannot be responsible for the beneficial effect observed. No further work is merited. The placebo effect is credited.

There is a second reason for the failure of the medical community to address this problem. Medical research is performed either in universities or in company laboratories. Universities get their funding from granting agencies. University professors would be loath to appear before a grant committee defending a research proposal to investigate an old wives' tale. Soap at the bottom of the bed? It sounds like quackery.

On the other hand, pharmaceutical companies would have no interest in assigning the problem to their laboratories. It would be difficult to justify research on such an inexpensive product as soap. The return on investment is unlikely to be high. It seems that the only ones who would be interested in seeing this issue resolved are those presently suffering from nocturnal cramps! And they have no collective voice.

Finally, a word about the discrediting of anecdotal evidence by the medical community: Having worked for nearly a lifetime both in fundamental science and in the practical application of research work, I have to say that anecdotal evidence does not have zero value. Of course, it must be treated with caution and not used irresponsibly, but in my experience it can give useful hints about which avenues might be usefully explored. The very existence of anecdotal evidence is a sign that the field has not been adequately researched.

In conclusion, I want to make it clear that I do not believe that soap in the bed cures cramps. But then, neither do I believe it does not cure cramps. This is not a question of belief. It is a question of doing under controlled conditions the necessary experiments to test the hypothesis. In a previous article, I outlined a proposed experiment that might at least stimulate a professional academic to tackle this question. I am disappointed that a year later no one has reported having done this simple experiment.

I was pleased to read in the March 2014 issue of this website a response by Joe and Terry Graedon on the value of home remedies. The medical community would do well to take note of it.

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY PERSPECTIVE:

We thank Derek Page for his continued interest in this topic. He has an inquisitive mind and would like answers to some of life's unusual questions. We too would love someone to undertake Derek's proposed experiment.

In the meantime, we think a bar of soap under the bottom sheet is a low-tech, inexpensive and surprisingly safe strategy for combatting nighttime leg cramps...for some people (not everyone benefits). You can read some fascinating stories at this link.

 

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I recently decided that if I ever win the lottery, I will set up a foundation for medical and nutritional research into topics that are not funded because they don't promise a big financial payout.

My lottery odds are slim, of course, but if we all make that pledge, the odds get much better.

I believe in soap for leg cramps. I keep a small bar of soap in my purse for awful cramps in my hands too. They ease immediately!

Here is some anecdotal evidence that soap is not a placebo. My husband and I both had leg cramps at night and when we each put a bar of soap on our respective sides of the bed we didn't get cramps. One night my husband started hollering that he had a leg cramp. I checked and his soap had fallen on the floor, unbeknownst to him.

In the same vein, I would consider as anecdotal evidence for homeopathy working at least some of the time that people give homeopathic remedies to their pets and it often relieves their symptoms. Or, when someone advised me to give a homeopathic remedy to my five-year-old daughter for her allergies that had made her eyes red, itchy, and swollen. No over-the-counter remedy had worked. I knew nothing about homeopathy and so had no expectations of it. Yet when I gave her homeopathic euphrasia I watched as the redness and swelling disappeared within a minute.

In all these instances I can't think how a placebo effect could have been operating. It's useful to collect instances like this because they do add up to knowledge. If the scientists aren't going to research our effective remedies, we should do what research we can ourselves.

Don't know what Derek thinks, but I've been using soap under the sheet for 20 years and it works for me. Also have a neighbor that I told about it and it worked for him. Amazingly it is the same bar of soap and still in the wrapper.

You left out the "force" of chemical reaction. If, as has been suggested on this website, some chemical in the perfume of soap is transferred to and through the skin of a person who puts soap in the bed, then there could, indeed, be a physical force at work in stopping cramps.

Nevertheless, the power of placebo is not to be overlooked. It seems to have quite an effect in some cases, and should be studied to figure out how we can use it purposefully to cure illness. Maybe witch doctors had something going that we shouldn't ignore.

Ah, but there IS an "intermediary medium" in this instance. Lots of media - air and the bedclothes, as well as the aether and the Higgs field. It may well be that some compound in some soaps out gasses or something and positively benefits some people. If someone could identify all those "somes", and find a way to monetize the phenomenon you can bet there would be plenty of advertising justifying the practice. There is already a purpose-made soap for sale.

So what if it is a placebo effect or "all in your head"? If it works, it works.

Physicians are trained in PHARMACEUTICALS....their "infallable" double blind placebo controlled trials. Of course much of the "data" they rely on so heavily is manipulated in one way or another, ex: Statistical manipulation, throwing out "undedesired" outcomes or effects. Yet, this is their gold standard. For example Statin drugs, cholesterol causation of heart disease, vaccines....etc etc etc...I had shingles, refused antivirals which may or may not help. and I read several people noting significant relief of shingles pain etc,,using apple cider vinegar, or listerine. I tried the Apple Cider Vinegar, and it worked wonders for me, dont care if it was a placebo effect...it took my pain away..therefore it WORKED! You almost have to be your own physician in many cases...YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE who has your best interest at heart.Same goes for many things, like RLS...if it works for you, IT WORKS. Drugs dont work for everybody, why is that not treated as anecdotal? My educated guess, is $$$$

We have had a bar of ivory soap at the bottom of our bed for several years. We put a fresh one in about every six months. My husband used to wake with crushing leg cramps in his calf. Not since the soap. I do not trust the medical community as they do not embrace anything that is not "scientifically proven." So much is common sense and knowing your body. Of course, I have a family doctor who I have gone to for years. He really listens and I do trust him. But I am also open to a more natural way of dealing with physical issues. And sometimes a combination of the two is the right way to go. I DO not believe that a pill is the answer to every little complaint. Way too many scary side effects. Thanks for your great articles.

Does anyone really care if it is placebo effect? Even if it does not really "work" (according to a scientist who is getting paid by a drug company) but I think it does and I do not have cramps because of soap, then it works. Nothing further needs to be said about it.

I think the "placebo effect" is strongly scientifically documented and is being studied by the scientific community. The mind is very powerful. The will is very powerful. If you believe something can relieve your pain, and it does, what difference does it make if it's a "proven" remedy? And if that something is inexpensive, readily available and doesn't cause harmful side effects--what's the problem? Old wives tales, like cliches, are repeated because they are often true.

It doesn't matter what they say about soap helping with leg cramps--I even carry it in the car because sometimes when I'm driving I get a cramp in my leg, also when out walking a small bar goes in my pocket. The problem with these people is they want you to take a pill!!! I trust in simple solutions like a spoon of mustard and other simple solutions for relief from our problems. Maybe one day when they get a cramp they will try it in desperation as we have done and find out that it works!!!

If you care only about yourself, it's fine not to care if it's a placebo effect, and I think that's how most of us would naturally treat it. But many people won't try a remedy if a doctor doesn't approve, even if it's something as harmless as putting soap in your bed. I tell people about home remedies all the time, and when they're skeptical I say "There's no downside to trying it." It hits some people like a ton of bricks that they could do something their doctor didn't tell them to do. Isn't that weird? But that's one reason I like controlled studies. Also, if they find out the mechanism for some cure that knowledge will enter the annals of science and possibly be used for other things.

The problem with the medical and Big Pharmacy is they know one thing...money. If they can't make money then the solution must be suspect. Most drugs can be made cheaply, yet the pharmaceutical companies charge outrageous prices which I feel is just evil. Why not try simple solutions? If a bar of soap or eating a little mustard works for someone isn't that better than putting chemicals in our bodies, chemicals that usually cause other health issues? I've tried both mustard and soap. Both have worked. I was skeptical, but am no longer.

When I first heard about the soap treatment for leg cramps, I too was very skeptical. But because the cramps were bothering me so much I decided to try it, especially since it cost nothing. I have to admit that the soap did seem to alleviate the cramps, but not for long. I discussed this with my daughter who is a registered nurse. She suggested I try drinking a glass of water at bedtime. Lo and behold, no more cramps. But it doesn't necessarily have to be plain water. Tea, coffee or milk seems to work just as well. Apparently, the body is lacking water, which in turn causes the cramps. Works for me.

Here's what will happen - Enough anecdotes will pile up, and soon the pharmaceutical companies will look into soap in the bed. The effective substance will be isolated and made into pill or ointment form. Probably it will be pronounced a prescription drug, the soap companies will be forbidden to use it, and the pharmaceutical companies will charge a fortune for it. And you'll have to go to a doctor to get the prescription. Everybody wins - except the consumer - again.

@RMC, @pld
I have had no nocturnal leg cramps for over 30 years. I DON'T keep any soap under the sheet. Now that is strong evidence that keeping nothing under the sheets cures and prevents (isn't that better) leg cramps. No need to undertake any clinical study. It has been done in my case!!!!!!

Well I have been having cramps in my legs since I was in high school which is nearly 70 years ago and I have taken lag cramps for the past 20 years and to date some time they work and some time they don't.

Also have tried your soap suggestion and that works some time and some time it doesn't. Last night was one of the do not work's for me. So when this does not work I drink a sip of dill pickle juice and it works. But I wind up having to throw the pickles away.

I even read where lavender soap work the best and I now I have that kind of soap but it does not work any better than just regular soap for me. Waiting for a better cure for the leg cramps.

It's a shame that most tunnel-visioned, starched-brained medical community professionals cannot conceive that something natural or simple with no drugs in it could cure or help relieve pain!

I've tried several remedies from People's Pharmacy, some worked for me and some didn't, fact is everyone's different. The fact that some didn't, blows the Placebo effect, doesn't it? I have come to love soap, I have used it time and again on night time leg cramps, last night me sciatic nerve in my back was hurting, so I tried sticking the bar of soap right to that spot for a few minutes. I woke up this morning with that soap still stuck to my back and my pain was completely gone. So it may have far more uses that just for leg cramps.

I don't care what the medical community has to say, I know it works for me! And I have to say that out of the whole medical community, there are still some that are open-minded to these natural remedies, my doctor included. I told him what I had been doing about my back pain and he was very supportive. My body doesn't take to prescription drugs very well, so I will continue to use my bar of soap, my castor oil packs (works wonders), and my glycerin . . . and whatever else that helps me naturally.

I am not aware of anyone claiming that soap in the bed CURES leg cramps. Cure is the word used by Derek Page. People are saying that the soap RELIEVES their leg and hand cramping.

I thought I read this on Peoples Pharmacy and was surprised that there was no mention here: A research science student became interested and wanted to learn why soap so frequently prevents or mitigates leg cramps. In reading the anecdotal comments mention was made of the need to replace soap bars that had worn out.

That singular fact pointed to something in the soap ingredients. To make a long-winded explanation short he concluded that it might be the fragrance chemicals. I have no references to the article especially if not from PP. This groundwork, if found could save a researcher some time. Maybe someone else will be able to supplement this comment.

Derek Page responds: Yes, Sid, I believe you saw the article in People’s Pharmacy. Most of what you say is accurate, but I must point out one error. The article was not written by a science student. It was written by two aging scientists, Hugh Smailes and Derek Page! There are two articles in the July 2012 issue and one in the January 2013.issue. Thank you for your interest. I am delighted that you got the story right even though you got the authorship wrong.

After trying various remedies, including giving up the statins, I started putting a quick shake of tumeric powder in my two or three glasses of daily green tea. I found the flavor easy to get used to, and the cramps, "leg, arm, finger" are gone absolutely non-existent V.K.

The medical establishment only wants to drug or cut any health problems. That is for their profits, not necessarily to benefit the patient. So, they discount home remedies, because there is no money in it for them. Beware the naysayers with their own agendas.

I use a piece of soap in a pair of socks for cramps in feet. I hold a piece of soap in my hand when I have cramping in my hand. It works right away.

Wow! Common sense in a world where common sense is not common anymore.

I tried placing soap beneath my sheet. It didn't help. However, I put on socks; placed a small piece of
soap (a used bar that is thin) by each ankle. I have done this for twelve nights and NO CRAMPS!!!!

I have asthma and severe allergies. I can't tolerate the fragrance chemicals, and don't use soaps that have essential oil scents, either. The soap I use, and also use when I have the leg/foot/toe cramps, is an old fashioned lye soap. The only ingredients are lard and lye. It works for me, and fragrance is NOT the reason it works. And so, the mystery continues. There is nothing wrong in believing in something that can't be proven. If it works, that is all that really matters.

I always use soap in my bed and my preteen daughter had bad toe cramps the other day for the first time. It really scared her, so I said let's put some soap in your bed tonight and maybe they won't come back.

She has never had night time cramps, so I really only did it for peace of mind. However, after a couple days she said, "I love having this soap in my bed! I don't kick the sheets off any more! It is usually so hard to make my bed in the morning when the covers are all over the floor and that doesn't happen any more!"

I guess she has been battling restless legs and didn't know it.

After my husband passed away and I had been caring for him at home for two years, I began to experience foot cramps two or three times a night. After about three weeks I placed a bar of soap under the bottom sheet. Lo and behold foot cramps gone. I also experienced hand cramps while playing cards, so I brought a hotel size soap bar with me and held it in my hands rubbing it a bit. Cramps were gone!!

The soap in bed, didn't work at all. However, I rub a good body lotion with lavender on my arms and legs, before going to sleep. Result: no pain and a restful night(without any sleeping pills)!

Well, I recently read in a medical article that our furniture (as well as other household items), emit gases; therefore, I guess soap would emit something helpful/useful, for those that it helps, in the relief of leg cramps!!! I bought mesh, drawstring bags at the dollar store to put the soap bars in so they do not get shoved or pushed off the bed.

I was not a believer until the day I had hand cramps several times during the day. Finally in desperation, I just picked up a bar of soap and held it. Cramp gone! That was easy.

Also, I've found that a tsp of yellow mustard also works.

My wife and I have also suffered from night time leg cramps, she more than I, we have been putting a bar of soap under the lower sheet for many many years and have had cramps on very rare occasions. For us it works very well. The soap is used in it's original wrapping or box and replaced every few years as the box gets damaged.

It didn't seem as though putting soap in my bed worked well for me. I wear socks at night, both summer and winter, because of cold feet. Everytime, when using a sliver of any kind of soap, in each sock, they keep the leg cramps away from me. When I have forgotten to do this, I have often had these cramps. Getting up, and putting the slivers in my socks, always stop the cramps within a minute or two. Otherwise the cramps have remained for long periods of time, (before I learned better)...

I have found several strange causes for the cramps, and those are drinking milk anytime during the day, or taking a calcium or magnesium tablet before bedtime. When using the soap, I never have cramps anymore, no matter if I had taken the tablets or drunk the milk.

The soap slivers work perfectly for me, to keep the cramps away.

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY RESPONSE:

Anyone who would like precut soap chips that fit nicely in socks, go to this link:

http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/bed-soap/

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