A few days ago retired physicist Derek H. Page and his colleague Hugh Smailes submitted an article to The People’s Pharmacy titled “Why Does Soap Soothe Nighttime Leg Cramps?”
It was an interesting hypothesis and we invite you take a moment to read their submission. This is not the first time we have heard from a scientist that fragrance might be a key factor in soap’s anti-cramp action. Several years ago a chemist at N.C. State University actually measured the volatile chemicals liberated by the most popular brands of soap against leg cramps. He identified a particular fragrance that was common to these various brands.
Derek Page has written a follow-up article to the original submission. He found a fascinating article in the medical literature bolstering the original hypothesis.
Submitted by Derek H. Page
In our recent paper on soap at the bottom of the bed and its effect on muscle cramps we drew the analogy between the proposed treatment and the well-established techniques of skin patch technology for the treatment of certain conditions. We should point out that the major differences are:
1. In the soap treatment the release of the active agent (fragrance) is slow because of the distance through which the fragrance has to travel within the soap bar before release. The bar can last for months without replacement.
2. In the soap treatment there is an enormous area available to the agent for its transfer. Effectively this is the entire skin area of the lower half of the body enveloped by the cloud of fragrance vapor emitted by the soap bar.
It is these two factors, together with the vasodilating properties of the fragrance, that we believe make the treatment work.
As senior author of our paper I accept responsibility for not recognizing a highly relevant report (1) that approached the subject from the opposite direction. Researchers in the medical field ground samples of Ivory soap and contained them in a patch of regular size. They applied the patch locally to patients suffering from menstrual cramps and reported considerable relief from pain and muscle spasm.
This result and other evidence we have relied on gives powerful support for this explanation of the “Soap at the Bottom of the Bed” mystery. The soap in the bed does the same job as the soap in the patch. In the bed it just does it slowly while you are sleeping.
The time has come to elevate this proposed explanation from a hypothesis to an established fact. Finally the soap has been put to bed. The placebo-seekers can relax.
Derek H. Page, (Baie D’Urfe, Quebec, Canada)
1. Ough, Y. D., et al. “Soap-Scented Skin Patch for Menstrual Cramps: A Case Series.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. July, 2008, 14(6), 618.
We are not sure that Derek’s proposed hypothesis has evolved to established fact. That would require a double-blind, placebo-control trial. But in the meantime we have discovered another article that bolsters his argument. Dr. Ough is an anesthesiologist at Beloit Memorial Hospital in Beloit, Wisconsin. Dr. Ough has hypothesized that soap-scented oil (SSO) is the key factor in soap that relieves cramps. Dr. Ough created a skin patch of crushed bar soap. In an article in the Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, Dr. Ough offers the following:
“…I assembled a skin patch made of crushed bar soap, and achieved successful results in regards to relief of muscle cramping and pain. I further experimented with the use of this soap patch for various other painful medical conditions.
“It was noted that the soap patch was successful in relieving pain from muscle cramps, knots, and even the trigger point pain associated with chronic myofascial pain syndrome. The soap patch also is effective for smooth muscle spasms, relieving the pain from menstrual cramps, intestinal cramps, and kidney stone.
“Hypothesizing that the scent of the soap was the active ingredient responsible for alleviating pain, I have since assembled the skin patches with a soap-scented oil (SSO), rather than bar soap itself, and hope to continue to expand its applications to other disease states.
“…Due to its seemingly preferential action in the relief of muscular pain, I investigated the application of the SSO skin patch for relief of pain associated with fibromyalgia. Patients reported a significant decrease in their pain rating within one hour of application.
“For relief of headaches, patients were instructed to apply the SSO skin patch directly to the back of the neck upon onset of pain. Headaches were consistently relieved within one hour. Similar results were not achieved with application of the patch to other areas of the head or neck, including the frontal and temporal regions.”
“…I hypothesize that the active ingredient in the SSO skin patch is the scent itself. This would represent a new and unique method of medicinal delivery, because the scent is seemingly absorbed through the skin and not via the olfactory system.
“From these results, I conclude that the SSO skin patch is a safe and effective topical treatment for the pain of fibromyalgia.”
We have gone from hypothesis to preliminary research. A “case series” is not a smoking gun, but it is tantalizing. You will find scores of success stories at this link and this link. You can also go to www.peoplespharmacy.com. Just put “soap” or “leg cramps” into your search. Here’s a link to leg soap stories. You will also find doubters and some people who have not achieved success with soap. Not everyone benefits from this remedy.
Should you be interested in trying our special lavendar-scented flat soap (which is less lumpy in bed and thus less likely to interfere with sleep), check out The People’s Pharmacy Bed Soap and Leg Soap. Here is a direct link to our shopping cart.
Please do let us know if this is just a silly soap story or if it works for you.