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Can You Prevent Leg Cramps With Hot Soup?

Enjoying a bowl of spicy hot soup might be just the ticket to prevent bothersome nighttime leg cramps. The pungent flavors could be responsible.

Preventing nighttime leg cramps can be challenging. A long time ago, doctors would prescribe quinine to people with cramps that wake them at night. That has not been standard medical practice for decades now. The dangers of quinine are too great to risk using it for a condition that is not life-threatening. However, spicy hot soup has no side effects that we are aware of. Would it help prevent muscle cramps?

Hot Soup With Cabbage and Chile Peppers:

Q. Could leg cramps be reduced or eliminated by eating homemade hot soup? It has cabbage, crushed tomatoes, chiles, carrots, onions, celery and spices. My wife made two series of such soups and I have not had leg cramps while we were eating them.

I take a potassium pill daily. I’ve tried a commercial pill that is supposed to stop leg cramps, to no avail.

A. The vegetables in your wife’s soup are rich in potassium, and that may help. Possibly, however, the magic lies in the spices, especially the chile peppers. Scientific evidence supports the idea that certain strong flavors such as hot peppers and other spices can relieve muscle cramps quickly (Muscle & Nerve, Sept. 2017).  They activate ion channels associated with nerves and can override the misfiring that causes muscle cramps. 

The Science Behind Home Remedies:

You can learn more about the science behind this and other home remedies in our eGuide to Favorite Home Remedies. We suspect that the transient receptor potential (TRP) channels that explain how mustard reverses muscle cramps also explain why spicy hot soup can help.

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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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  • Craighead DH et al, "Ingestion of transient receptor potential channel agonists attenuates exercise-induced muscle cramps." Muscle & Nerve, Sept. 2017. DOI: 10.1002/mus.25611
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