The People's Perspective on Medicine

Can Magnesium Relieve Muscle Cramps at Night?

Readers report that they can prevent most muscle cramps at night by taking magnesium supplements. Few scientists have studied this treatment.
Pregnant women with cramp in leg on bed

Muscle cramps at night are sleep-stealers. They can wake you from a sound sleep with sudden horrifying pain and a tight spasm. Mostly, such nocturnal cramps afflict the calves, but some people report debilitating cramps in the feet or even the thighs.

Doctors used to think that such nighttime leg cramps were caused by electrolyte imbalances. As a result, they would suggest that patients eat more bananas (for potassium) or drink Gatorade or similar electrolyte-rich beverages. More recently, though, scientists and health care providers have concluded that most cramps are due to nerve problems rather than electrolyte abnormalities (American Family Physician, Aug. 15, 2012). Occasionally, doctors may recommend supplements such as magnesium or vitamin B12, although there is not very much good research to support these treatments.

Magnesium Supplements Prevent Muscle Cramps at Night:

Q. I take magnesium glycinate at bedtime and it completely relieves muscle cramps in my feet. I don’t get diarrhea when I stick with the glycinate form of magnesium.

A. Researchers have reported that leg cramps during pregnancy may respond to magnesium bisglycinate chelate supplements (300 mg per day) (Maternal & Child Nutrition, April 2015).  We don’t know if muscle cramps at night are different in pregnant women and other people, however.

A review of the medical literature concluded that it is unlikely that magnesium supplements prevent leg cramps in older people (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Sept. 12, 2012). A randomized controlled trial found that magnesium oxide supplements did not prevent muscle cramps at night (JAMA Internal Medicine, May 1, 2017).

Readers Chime In:

Like you, though, other readers have found magnesium helpful.

Ellen noted:

“Constipation issues may be caused by a magnesium shortage. I take 200 mg of magnesium citrate and 500 mg Vitamin C at bed time. The magnesium also helps prevent leg cramps. My bowels work regularly every morning. I slowly adjusted the magnesium dosage until I found what works for me.”

 Janet has a complex regimen that includes magnesium:

“Benfiotiamine (B1, thiamine, but better absorption), magnesium glycinate, turmeric, 1 capsule before bed helps with muscle cramps at night. Hyland’s Muscle Cramps…just in case. I have to order benfotiamine online. This is what stopped mine.”

Ray is also a fan of magnesium to prevent muscle cramps:

“I was having regular nighttime leg & ankle cramps for years until I started taking magnesium glycinate, all because of places like this, not the doctor. Most of it started after my treatments for colon/rectal cancer which included chemo and radiation. Once I was past all that (2014 gone & hopefully for good) I’ve had cramps that make you cry at night and even some during the day. My hands during the day and legs during the night. Something had to change, so I searched till I found magnesium.

“I’m not saying it’s a cure-all but, I’m of the opinion that it’s better to preempt cramping rather than react to it. After all, who wants to be awakened with leg cramps that are next to ‘crippling’? After starting my magnesium glycinate regimen, I saw immediate relief. I couldn’t believe it but rather thought it was just a fluke. It’s now been over two months of using the MG and I’ve only had ONE bad cramp and that was last night. Usually, if any, they are so mild I can stand up and lay back down and everything is OK. To be fair, I worked my booty off yesterday in the yard.

“Also, I was so impressed that I made a doctor’s appointment to see if I was deficient in other vitamins or minerals. After the blood tests they informed me to keep on taking my (other) supplements and the magnesium. That’s all I got. No printout or anything else. My reason for thinking I was deficient was that I “empty” out EVERY DAY because of my cancer treatment damage. I would characterize it as mild diarrhea every day. I had to be losing vitamins and minerals but never gave it much thought before trying the magnesium.

“Needless to say, I’ll keep on researching this topic. I appreciate what I’ve read already on this site. It’s hard to argue with real results. Before, I was the guy that thought “I must not be drinking enough”, which btw was counter productive when you have prostate issues. Now, I’m the guy who knows more and feels better, and it’s not because of doctors.”

A Word of Warning:

People with poor kidney function must avoid magnesium supplements. Excess magnesium puts too much strain on struggling kidneys.

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    About the Author
    Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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    • Allen RE & Kirby KA, "Nocturnal leg cramps." American Family Physician, Aug. 15, 2012.
    • Supakatisant C & Phupong V, "Oral magnesium for relief in pregnancy-induced leg cramps: a randomised controlled trial." Maternal & Child Nutrition, April 2015. DOI: 10.1111/j.1740-8709.2012.00440.x
    • Garrison SR et al, "Magnesium for skeletal muscle cramps." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Sept. 12, 2012. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009402.pub2
    • Roguin Maor N et al, "Effect of magnesium oxide supplementation on nocturnal leg cramps: A randomized clinical trial." JAMA Internal Medicine, May 1, 2017. DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.9261
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    I have a word of hope for people with chronic diarrhea: Your advice of several years ago regarding coconut macaroons, 2 a day. I have told 3 friends who were having the problem, & in all 3 cases, the cookies did the trick! They weren’t former cancer patients, so I can’t say for sure if they work for that, but my friends were very thankful that I told them about the macaroons.
    Thank you!

    I sometimes have excruciating muscle cramps in my legs at night. They are so bad that I cannot stand up or even crawl to the kitchen to get some mustard which can help stop my cramping. What I HAVE learned is that that there is a direct correlation between my being dehydrated and my muscle cramps. If I am well-hydrated, I NEVER have nightly muscle cramps. Perhaps the people who take magnesium before bed are helped more by the fluid they ingest while taking the pill than the pill itself.

    Two or three years ago I ordered magnesium chloride flakes and then oil another time. I was having cramps in my feet. Soaking in the mag flakes every four or five days relieved the cramps. Once I got the oil, I could spray it on then after about 20 mins wipe the residue off. I hardly ever have cramps anymore. I do still apply the oil periodically which I believe helps to keep me pain-free.

    Magnesium has worked great for me. No more foot or leg cramps.

    Until this past year, the only leg cramps I ever had were mild ones, easily managed, during pregnancy–almost 40 years ago. This year I began to take magnesium l-threonate in the recommended dose–less than 150 mgs per day. After about a week of this I had the most unbelievably excruciating thigh cramps imaginable. Figuring this might be an electrolyte imbalance, I stopped the magnesium . It was hard to believe that less than 150 mgs of magnesium could induce such a reaction, so I decided to try again. A few days after restarting, again, I had thigh cramps so excrutiatingly painful and unstoppable that I think you could say I developed a case of PTSD after that! I am deathly afraid of a recurrence. Again, I stopped the magnesium, and the cramps stopped occurring. I’ve been free from cramps since stopping the magnesium.

    My point in telling this story is that magnesium may not always be helpful, to say the least, and in fact for some a calcium supplement like calcium citrate, or making sure to eat enough potassium-containing foods might be better.
    I also wonder if there is something special (I am aware it is supposed to cross the blood brain barrier much more efficiently than other magnesiums) about magnesium l-threonate specifically that could induce this reaction.

    I use yellow mustard for leg and foot cramps, works fast. A heaping tablespoon full, 5 minutes later – relief!

    I have used magnesium citrate or magnesium bisglycinate to relieve muscle cramps in my legs for years. These compounds of magnesium are much more easily assimilated in the body than magnesium oxide, which is not very soluble in water. I’m not surprised that the controlled trial mentioned using magnesium oxide supplements was ineffective.

    The only problem with magnesium compounds is that they can cause loose bowels if too much is consumed. The key is to reduce the dosage if you experience diarrhea.

    Of course the randomized controlled study used magnesium oxide, which our bodies can hardly assimilate. In my opinion, these studies are biased to look like nothing natural works.

    Drinking 2 liters of water during the day and early evening cures my leg cramps. Why does the Peoples Pharmacy not include this information when discussing leg cramps?

    The best thing I have ever found is to take 1 Tablespoon of French’s mustard when I wake up with severe foot or leg cramps. It relieves in minutes. Also I have found that keeping well-hydrated during the day helps a lot.

    Leg cramps were an occasional problem, but restless leg was a near nightly occurence. Magnesium finally solved this, and it worked rapidly.

    Later determined that the magnesium deficiency was likely caused by my decades long use of prilosec. I am now working to get off PPI with DGLicorice.

    These, and green lipped mussel oil for inflammation make up my complete regimen. Zero prescription drugs for this 67 year-old male.

    Magnesium is also an Electrolyte like Calcium, Potassium, Sodium, Chlorine, but Mg is ignored in conventional allopathy.
    Magnesium is the partner to Calcium, like yin and yang. Calcium contracts muscles while Magnesium relaxes muscles. Muscle cramping or contracting is done by calcium. Muscle relaxing is done by Magnesium. If there is insufficient Mg, then muscle only can cramp or contract, and not relax.

    When I get muscle cramps while sleeping, it’s usually because I didn’t drink enough water that day. If I sit up on the side of the bed and drink half a glass of water, the cramps subside within five to 10 minutes.

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