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. 

Join Over 120,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

Each week we send two free email newsletters with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies and a preview of our award-winning radio show. Join our mailing list and get the information you need to make confident choices about your health.

  1. Nina Frank

    I’ve always heard that eating salt is a cure for leg cramps, but I have the exact opposite effect. Last night I had some soup and had added a bit of salt which I seldom do and I was up often during the night because the cramps were so bad.

  2. Elizabeth H.

    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.

    • Jenny

      are you still having the legs cramps? I have a great way to prevent them while you sleep, it sounds crazy but works for me, as long I do not eat salty foods. You put soap chips under your fitted sheet around your legs & feet. I just use the small soap that people throw away before getting a new bar. That is all…Let me know if it works for you.

  3. richard paterson

    “Everything in moderation including moderation itself” seems like a good start.

  4. emh

    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.

  5. AS

    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

  6. Cherry

    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.

    • Dave

      My neurologist prescribed Gapapentin (Neurontin) 100 mg at night right before going to bed but with a light meal to prevent getting nausea/vomiting. They used to give it to epileptics but this is a very small dose. Causes drowsiness and you can’t operate a vehicle after taking it, hence at late night before bedtime. She told me it would help me sleep as well. I drink a ton of Gatorade (including taking a bottle of it to bed with me!) to keep from cramping but in doing so, my triglyceride count is too high, so Gabapentin may be the thing I night for NIGHT leg cramps. What I’m afraid of is becoming dependent on it and also that the cramps will manifest themselves in the daytime. I can’t take pickle juice or mustard as both are hard on the stomach and I’m a GERD sufferer. Have any of you had disc surgeries? I’ve been told leg cramps result from having them.

  7. roseglass

    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

  8. PR

    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.

  9. emh

    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!

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted.