We sometimes hear from doctors who are disappointed that we write about home remedies. They feel the only topics worthy of discussion are treatments that have been discussed in weighty medical journals. Anything unproven might be dismissed as an old wives’ tale. Don’t tell them that sometimes the old wives were right!
Mustard for Leg Cramps:
Q. My husband is a physician. When I told him about the “mustard cure” for leg cramps, he laughed it off as just another old wives’ tale.
Then when he had leg cramps during the night, I insisted on giving him a teaspoon of yellow mustard. Guess what? He is now a believer and has a small container of mustard on his nightstand!
A. Physicians should be skeptical. They are trained to seek scientific evidence. But experience is also worthwhile. If leg cramps disappear within seconds of swallowing a spoonful of yellow mustard, we think that is information worth sharing.
We don’t know if yellow mustard eases cramps so quickly because of the vinegar or the salt in it or due to the turmeric used to give it that bright yellow color. Because of the popularity of pickle juice (vinegar and salt) to stop athletes’ muscle cramps, this has actually been studied and shown to be effective (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, May, 2010). Trainers worried that perhaps pickle juice or mustard would upset electrolyte balance, especially in athletes dehydrated by heat and vigorous activity. That has been tested and it doesn’t seem to happen (Journal of Athletic Training, May-June, 2014). People do seem to get relief from their muscle cramps, though.
Other Remedies for Muscle Cramps:
Lots more low-cost, low-risk remedies can be found at PeoplesPharmacy.com. They range from yellow mustard to tonic water to pickle juice or a bar of soap under the bottom sheet to prevent nighttime leg cramps. There may be an old wives’ tale or two in the mix but many people have found relief with such remedies and the side effects are negligible.
Sometimes experience trumps skepticism. We love randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, just like the doctor/husband in this question. But we also believe that it is helpful to keep your mind open to possibilities. When a minor cut stops bleeding after an application of finely ground black pepper we think that observation has value.
Whether you are a skeptic or someone who embraces low-cost, practical options, we think our People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedy book offers something useful for a range of conditions from joint pain and heartburn to skin fungus and sinusitis.