weird remedy

For years, we’ve been hearing from listeners who swallow a shotglass of pickle juice or a spoonful of yellow mustard to make a muscle cramp disappear. They often report relief within a few minutes. How could such a weird remedy work so quickly to alleviate muscle contraction?

Muscle Cramps Strike at Sea:

Neurobiologists Rod McKinnon (a Nobel Prize winner) and Bruce Bean were kayaking miles off Cape Cod when they were struck with muscle cramps. Neither of them was dehydrated or depleted of electrolytes. So why did cramps strike at such an inopportune time?

Once they got back to land, the pair started investigating the hypotheses of why muscle cramps happen and what can be done to reverse them. Dr. Bean explains on the show how they came up with an alternate hypothesis.

The Genesis of Hotshot:

Their exploration led them to test a remedy they came up with that they call Hotshot. It is now available to the general public at  and will soon be available on Amazon.

After we hear from Bruce Bean, we’ll explore some other home remedies that are favorites of People’s Pharmacy listeners. We don’t have scientific explanations for most of them-yet. When will they be investigated? Do you have a favorite weird remedy you’d like to know more about?

We are interested in your stories and questions about strange remedies. Ask your question or share your story: Call 888-472-3366 between 7 and 8 am EDT on October 15, 2016, or email

This Week’s Guest:

Bruce Palmer Bean, PhD, is the Robert Winthrop Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free for four weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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  1. Yvonne
    Southwest Minnesota

    I am 81 years old and have had cramps since I was a little girl. I also had migraines since I was 21 years old. The migraines went away with the menopause, but the cramps only got worse. I tried all the minerals I ever read about, like calcium or zinc- what ever, but none seemed to work.

    After a especially terrible cramp in my thigh where I couldn’t walk or do anything, I decided I had to do something no matter what it cost. I had heard a Dr. Wallach say lack of minerals was the cause of all diseases so I tried Youngevity minerals call Beyond Osteo-fx (I am not pushing any brand) but with over 77 organically bound, non-GMO trace minerals in one serving I figured I would be getting what I needed.

    It is expensive. This is the only thing that has worked and I wish I could have found it many many years ago. If I stop it for any length of time, I start to get the cramps so I am taking it every single day. It takes a couple weeks before I noticed they were not as painful and maybe a month before they quit completely. Just be sure, what ever you try, has all the complete minerals. You won’t be sorry.

  2. Cathy

    If someone dislikes both mustard and regular pickles, will juice from sweet pickles do (like bread and butter pickles)?

  3. Jenny
    Jerusalem, IS

    Could the soap treatment work for cramps in the neck that occur only when lying down in bed?


    Leg cramps come from the same old thing that you remember of youth ! ! ! Lack of oxygen ! ! ! Very simple to cure ! ! ! tThe next time you lay down in bed , take a look up to see where the exhaust vent for heating and cooking is ! ! ! Air blowing into your face , especially , dry cold air irritates the sinuses and wants warm moist sinuses and attempts to moisturizes them with mucus which in turn blocks the normal amount of air (oxygen) getting to the extremes of your body ; nature causes pain to stimulate you to move and breathe more thus providing one with more oxygen to the extremes ! ! ! Notice cramps rarely happen when one is up and moving ! ! !

    A quick immediate way to eliminate or relieve cramps , as swimming cramps is ” HYPERVENTILATE ” by taking a deep breaths and forcing pressure into your lungs thereby forcing more air into the lungs ! ! ! Like in your youthful swimming days you were do not go swimming immediately after eating since , digestion requires a gross amount of your blood oxygen and therefore results in cramps ! ! !
    As for Joe and Terrys remedy for leg cramps ! Turn off , down or away the bedroom vents and you will get immediate relief ! ! ! The soap technology of Joe and Terry works by the soap oder dilates the sinuses and one gets more air ( oxygen ) pumped up from under the bed clothes ! ! ! Also better to clean your nostrils to prevent nasal congestion ! ! ! Especially , if you have been working in a dry dusty dirty area ! ! ! Another trick is to raise your head with folded towels the relieve blood pressure from closing your nostrils ! ! !

    Notice to writing people ; notice the I have put a space on each side of a punctuation mark since , a punctuation mark is as powerful as a word ! ! ! and needs space to maximize its power ! ! !

  5. Diane

    Eliminate sulfites from your diet especially wine and beer and dried fruit. Aso, too much exercise when you are not used to it brings on leg cramps for me.

  6. Marilyn

    I have heard before that a migraine may be compared to a muscle cramp. Based on this explanation for cramps i think this may be true. They may both be caused by nerves misfiring. Based on this i decided to sip vinegar in water when i started getting a migraine. It worked! Now i see this a known home treatment for migraine along with capsasin, and ice cream brain freeze. All fit in to the explanation provided here for muscle cramps. Eureka!

  7. Cindy M. B.

    If you have frequent leg cramps &/or if your soap seems to cruise around a lot and drop on the floor, it’s easy to put one of those little motel-sized bars of soap inside a knee-sock, or even attach it to your leg(s) inside the cut-off cuff(s) of an old pair of socks — which is more fun than having to wear whole socks to bed!

    Also, you could just take the darn soap and RUB a little on your leg(s) at bedtime, which is what I often do when I’m out camping and have no bottom sheet to put soap under. It all works!

  8. ME
    Yorktown, NY

    Eating yellow mustard: does it have to be plain mustard, eaten just from the spoon, or could the mustard be put on slice of the bread and being eaten with the bread?

  9. Anne L.
    Santa Fe, NM

    I used to have frequent episodes of leg cramps while sleeping, to the point I could release them by pulling my toes up while asleep. Was told that low calcium levels could be the problem. Haven’t had any cramps in years since I started taking a calcium supplement.

  10. Blanche
    Greensboro, NC

    I keep the small packets of mustard you get with take out sandwiches on my bed stand. Don’t relish the thought of swallowing mustard in the middle of the night, but it’s easier than trying to get to the kitchen and the cramp is gone in about a minute.

    I read it was the vinegar in the mustard; pickles also are made with vinegar. I also drink tonic water every couple of days; hear it’s the potassium/quinine in it that works to keep the cramps away. Works for me!

  11. Jackie
    Raleigh, NC

    My brother and I have both suffered from painful night cramps in our feet, calves, and inner thighs. He drinks pickle juice to stop the cramping. I take another approach: I prevent the cramps from starting in the first place by drinking tonic water. I used to get cramps all the time, but now I never do. About 4 to 6 ounces of diet tonic per day does the trick for me. I know that quinine (the active ingredient in tonic) can be used to treat arrythmias, so perhaps there’s a neurological effect. Whatever the mechanism, this is an approach that other cramp sufferers might want to try.

  12. alan

    your podcast is full of loops & repetitions–enough to drive a person insane with frustration

  13. Esther
    Rockdale, WI.

    To reply to the person who wondered about mustard as a preventive measure: I take a large serving spoon of mustard before bed. This has stopped my restless leg symptoms. Also haven’t had a ;eg cramp since I started this routine. It’s more convenient that getting up to go to the fridge in the middle of the night. Don’t know why it works. Don’t care.

  14. Dorothy
    Los Angeles

    When I am dehydrated I would get leg cramps during the night. I would immediately drink 2 glasses of water, and walk off the cramps. My doctor suggested cold wet cloths, so that also helps. I’ll take that over pickle juice or mustard any time!

  15. Elsie
    Egg Harbor City, NJ

    I too get muscle cramps and I always hobble to the fridge and take about 2 tablespoons of yellow mustard and get relief in less than a minute if the cramp is in my lower legs. If it is in my thighs it takes about 1 minute. Mustard by itself does not taste too good but the crippling pain of the cramp makes is worth while taking. Drink some water afterwards.

  16. Jan
    Chocowinity NC

    Very interesting and informative program! I submitted an e-mail re: runners getting “stitches” after a few minutes in the race, hoping there might be a correlation between neuromuscular connections relieving leg cramps and those of the abdomen. Any suggestions on how to research that?

    As a retired RN and nurse educator, I have very much enjoyed your program over the years and my adult children in Boston and San Diego get the weekly podcasts and are equally enthusiastic.

    Thank you for a wonderful healthcare service you provide!

  17. Marilyn
    Newport, va

    Is it possible hot shot would work for migraine?

  18. Lyn

    Rather than experience the unpleasantness of swallowing pickle juice or mustard, I much prefer holding a bar of soap where the cramp is. It works in about two seconds for me. I keep the soap on my bedside table. It’s wonderful.

    From what I’ve read on People’s Pharmacy before, it’s the fragrance of the soap that makes it work. So if I think it’s not working as well as before, I replace it with a fresh bar, which I’m guessing may be every 6-12 months.

  19. george miller
    west virginia

    i wish to suggest that doctors offer intake questions asking over all health such as allergies rashes cramping pains and many others and follow up once a year with repeating the questionare for any changes . such reports would be more reliable at spotting reactions to prescribed medications. this avoids suggesting that cramping can be caused by Lipitor or related products by asking the patient if they are experiencing such side affects. if i am asked about having a rash or that a side affect such as a rash might develop i am sure such framed questions or advice generate false reports . ..example tell someone that the drink they normally enjoy now has a odd taste to it and you will see the impact the power of suggestion has

  20. Ray

    Been keeping bar of soap in bed but left on bedside table – woke up with leg cramp put bar of soap behind knee and help in crook in seconds cramp was gone — Normally use pickle juice or yellow mustard –

  21. Steve

    I used to have frequent leg cramps until I read about the mustard remedy. Taking mustard after having a cramp worked. But then, I began to wonder whether a prophylactic dose might prevent actually having the leg cramps at all. I have found that for me, a tablespoon of yellow mustard taken 20 minutes or so before bedtime actually prevents the cramps. I wonder whether anyone else has tried that.

  22. Louise

    I just wanted to add that my mother in North Carolina woke up with horrible leg cramps. She immediately went to the fridge and began eating mustard. This did work and the pain abated.

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