The People's Perspective on Medicine

Mustard Alleviates Mom’s Leg Cramps

The new science of TRP channels helps explain how mustard alleviates muscle cramps quickly and effectively.

Some remedies maintain their popularity for years and years. We received this letter back in 2004, when we were just getting used to the idea that swallowing a spoonful of yellow mustard alleviates a muscle cramp quickly.

Easing Nighttime Leg Cramps:

Q. I was surprised that in a recent column you seemed unfamiliar with using mustard for leg cramps. Last year you recommended that very same remedy.

My mother has leg cramps almost every night. Because of your earlier column on yellow mustard, I got a huge supply of individually wrapped mustard packets. She keeps them on her nightstand and in her purse. When a leg cramp starts, she takes the mustard and the cramps disappear immediately.

She got a cramp recently in a doctor’s office. Since she had used all her packets up, I asked the nurse to get some mustard from the break room. She’d never heard of the remedy but was impressed when the cramps went away. The turmeric in the mustard is the lifesaver.

Mustard Alleviates Sudden Muscle Cramps:

A. Thanks for reminding us of the earlier story:

“A friend of ours uses plain mustard for leg cramps. She swallows a teaspoonful of mustard to relieve the pain whenever she gets leg cramps. This home remedy works so well for her that she carries packets of mustard wherever she goes.”

Back is 2004, we said: “As far as we can tell, no one has done research to show that yellow mustard works against leg cramps. But your mother’s experience suggests that this home remedy has merit.”

TRP Channels Explain Why Mustard Alleviates Cramping:

Now we have research that explains how mustard may be working. It is all about TRP (transient receptor potential) channels. Activating these TRP channels in nerve cells sends a signal that interrupts the nerves creating muscle cell hyperactivity (Craighead et al, Muscle & Nerve, Sep. 2017). Mustard can trigger TRP channels, as can vinegar, cinnamon, ginger or hot pepper.

Scientists really began to study and understand TRP channels only at the beginning of the 21st century. As they describe their research, we will let you know more about it.

Revised 12/21/17

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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It works, and I have done it many times. Within minutes the cramp is gone. Amazing!

We take a couple of teaspoons every night with supper. Hardly ever get night leg/foot cramps now. We tried a store brand which didn’t have garlic and it didn’t seem to work as well as the McCormick brand. I’ve been getting foot cramps all my life ever since I can remember. Mustard is a good tip, thanks again.

For years I used hot compresses and tonic water to get rid of leg cramps but recently I started drinking more water every day and my cramps have disappeared. I drink a glass of cold water when I get up; a cup of hot water before eating breakfast and several glasses throughout the day.

Two teaspoons of yellow mustard with some water is definitely the answer for my cramps (especially in legs). If they are severe and the first dose of mustard doesn’t go the distance I simply take another one which does the trick. I found out about this about 8 years ago and always keep a substantial supply on hand.

I have been using mustard for years to ease muscle cramps. It works within 5 to 10 minutes. I keep the small packets of mustard from fast food places in the glove compartment of my car!

I don’t really care why mustard relieves my leg cramps but it works! They happen a few times a month and I immediately limp into the kitchen to grab a tablespoon of French’s mustard, because it is the brand we prefer for general use, not because the brand makes a difference. Almost immediately the cramps subside and the soreness they leave behind calms down within minutes. The research/opinions, etc., of why this works will probably change over the years. I’m just so glad it works for me.

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