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Pickle Juice for Cramps: Does It Work?

Medically reviewed by Katherine Marengo, LDN, RD, specialty in nutrition, on September 12, 2019m| Written by Adrian White

What does pickle juice have to do with cramps?

Pickle juice has become a popular remedy for leg cramps over the years — specifically for the cramps runners and athletes get after a workout.

Some athletes swear by it, attesting that pickle juice really works. Still, the science behind it is unclear.

On the one hand, skeptics have doubted that pickle juice works for leg cramps at all. There’s no solid scientific reason yet proving how it works, so some write it off as a placebo effect.

On the other hand, some research suggests that pickle juice is way more effective than a placebo. However, it’s still unclear why.

One long-standing theory for how pickle juice works is its sodium content. The juice contains salt and vinegar, which may help replenish electrolytes. But is this actually true?

Keep reading to learn more.

Does it actually work?

Because pickle juice is such a widely used remedy for leg cramps in the sports world, there’s been some research and studies investigating its effects — though not much.

Very few studies fully explain or prove how it works. Nor do they explain how it doesn’t work, or how it’s just a placebo effect. To date, the efficacy of pickle juice is still uncertain.

Some have theorized that pickle juice’s electrolytes prevent leg cramps after exercise — but one study in 2014 debunked this.

After checking blood plasma levels of nine healthy men for signs of increased electrolytes following consumption of pickle juice after exercise, researchers found that electrolyte levels remained the same.

They also stayed level no matter what the study participants drank: water, sports drinks, or pickle juice. This is because it takes a lot longer for electrolytes to be fully absorbed into the body, and long after a muscle cramp would come and go.

The same set of researchers also did a test on pickle juice for cramps earlier in 2010. They found that it did work to shorten cramp duration. On average, it relieved cramps in about 1.5 minutes, and 45 percent faster than when nothing was taken after exercise.

Cramp relief also had nothing to do with placebo effect. This led to the more intense exploration of pickle juice’s effects on electrolyte levels later in 2014.

How to use pickle juice for cramps

In studies where pickle juice was effective for muscular cramps, researchers used about 1 milliliter per kilogram of body weight. For the average study participant, this was somewhere between 2 to 3 fluid ounces.

To use pickle juice for muscular cramps, measure out the pickle juice and drink it quickly. Taking a rough “shot” is also acceptable.

You can use pickle juice from store-bought cucumber pickles or safely fermented homemade pickles, if you desire. Make sure the natural vinegar acids and salts are present. It also doesn’t matter if the pickle juice was pasteurized or not.

Because it’s thought that cramp relief comes from the vinegar specifically, avoid watering the juice down. Drink it raw and experience the taste. However, this may be difficult for some people who don’t enjoy the taste so much.

The science behind why it works

While it hasn’t been proven yet, researchers posit that pickle juice may help cramps by triggering muscular reflexes when the liquid contacts the back of the throat.

This reflex shuts down the misfiring of neurons in muscle all over the body, and “turns off” the cramping feeling. It’s thought that it’s specifically the vinegar content in pickle juice that does this.

Still, more research is needed to prove if this is exactly how pickle juice works to prevent cramps. While there are no studies proving that pickle juice doesn’t work, or that it’s a placebo, more research supports that it does indeed work by this mechanism.

Does it have to be pickle juice?

Over time, pickle juice has been unique and popular in the way it helps with muscle cramps. Thus far, there haven’t been many other natural foods or remedies to rival it.

Foods of a similar vein haven’t been studied as much as pickle juice for cramps. But they could be just as good.

Could you eat a pickle and have the same effect? Scientifically speaking, maybe.

As researchers supposed in 2010, the cramp relief may have more to do with the vinegar content. If you eat a pickle brined with vinegar, it might also work.

However, eating a pickle isn’t as well-studied as pickle juice.

What about other similar fermented products? Liquids like sauerkraut juice, kimchi juice, apple cider vinegar, and even kombucha are similar to pickle juice. Some have both vinegar and salt content, while others have just vinegar content.

Following the vinegar theory, these may also work. They just haven’t been studied or tested like pickle juice has.

There’s no harm in giving them a try if you consider any of the possible side effects beforehand.

What should I know before using pickle juice?

Some doctors and health professionals warn that pickle juice could possibly worsen dehydration. They say it curbs thirst when you drink it, but doesn’t rehydrate like water.

According to both the 2010 and 2014 studies, this isn’t true. Pickle juice won’t dehydrate you, and it doesn’t curb thirst. It’ll also rehydrate you just as much as water, another similar study in 2013 suggests.

If small amounts are taken — such as 2 to 3 fluid ounces occasionally — there should be little to no health or dehydration concerns.

Pickle juice tends to have a lot of salt, and is thus high in sodium. People with high blood pressure and those who are watching dietary sodium may want to be careful not to take too much pickle juice and use it only occasionally.

Pickles, especially homemade, have high levels of probiotics for gut health and immune system function.

Be careful taking it if you have digestive ailments or disorders. Some pickle juices are high in acetic acids, which can worsen certain symptoms. There are also some other possible side effects, too.

The bottom line

The verdict thus far is that pickle juice can work for leg cramps after exercise. Though there isn’t a whole lot of research on it, the studies so far are quite supportive.

Use of pickle juice to occasionally get rid of cramps post-exercise should also generally be quite safe. If you have any concerns, talk to your healthcare provider before using it.

Originally Published: https://www.healthline.com/health/pickle-juice-for-cramps

Drinking Pickle Juice for Cramps—Harvard Approved, Salty Solution

By Dr. Victor Marchione, MD – March 28, 2016

Drinking pickle juice for cramps might sound like a dirty trick someone’s playing on you. After all, how could sour pickle juice possibly help cramps? Well it might come as a surprise, but it’s a remedy that top-tier and recreational athletes use regularly to alleviate painful leg cramps quickly and effectively.

If you suffer from leg cramps, or experience any form of cramping for that matter, pickle juice might help you. Its unique formula of cramp-fighting compounds can ease your pain faster than water, sports drinks, and other measures you might have used to battle cramps in the past*.

Does Dehydration Cause Cramps?

Cramps are extremely frustrating to experience, and they’re also a source of confusion regarding where they come from. Traditional wisdom points to dehydration as the origin of most cramps. The theory goes that when your body is low on water, it can’t supply valuable nutrients to your muscles, and in the absence of vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes, muscles can seize up and cramp. Electrolytes such as sodium and potassium are the most important in this theory of dehydration, as they help to conduct nerve impulses throughout your body. When they can’t be carried where they need to be, the reaction ceases and cramping occurs.

The other theory regarding cramping has to do with muscles being overworked and fatiguing prematurely. Neurotransmitter communication becomes skewed and muscles keep firing, causing rapid contractions that create cramps. This is why cramping tends to occur in concentrated areas and not throughout the entire body at once.

Recently, the dehydration theory has lost a little bit of steam, and pickle juice has a lot to do with this. While dehydration can cause cramping, it might not be the reason you experience cramps during certain activities such as running, playing sports, or cycling. In any event, drinking pickle juice for cramps is a good treatment regardless of why they occur.

Other Causes of Muscle Cramps

You can experience cramps in a number of ways; thankfully, pickle juice can help you deal with all of them. These other causes include:

  • Lying in bed with your toes pointed down
  • Exercise
  • Pregnancy
  • PMS
  • Cold temperatures (especially cold water)
  • Medical conditions that cause blood flow problems, including:
    • Peripheral arterial disease
    • Kidney disease
    • Thyroid disease
    • Multiple sclerosis
  • Standing on a hard surface for an extended period
  • Sitting for a long time
  • Having legs in an awkward position during sleep
  • A lack of calcium, potassium, sodium, or other important minerals in your blood
  • Certain medications, such as:
    • Antipsychotics
    • Diuretics
    • Birth control
    • Statins
    • Steroids

Does Drinking Pickle Juice Help Prevent Muscle Cramps?

Is pickle juice good for leg cramps? Pickle juice can help battle and prevent cramps for a couple of reasons, but the main reason might surprise you. Although it’s rich in water and electrolytes—it has more sodium than top sports drinks—it’s also acidic, which is where its real power lies.

Research shows that pickle juice for leg cramps at night or during the day works better and faster than water by a rather large margin. But what’s so interesting is that it takes less time for pickle juice to relieve leg cramps than it does to be absorbed in the stomach—meaning it’s not the water content or electrolytes that are responsible for its cramp-fighting prestige, as it doesn’t have time to be absorbed into the bloodstream by the time the effects are felt.

A team of researchers from Brigham Young University and North Dakota State University electrically induced leg cramps in 12 subjects and treated them with either pickle juice or water. The participants who drank pickle juice for the leg cramps saw the symptoms diminish in less than a minute a half, while the water group had to wait two minutes for their symptoms to disappear.

Because of the time difference, it appears hydration levels had little to do with the cramping. If it did, it’s likely the response time would have been much closer. Furthermore, it didn’t appear that electrolyte levels were altered to the degree that would impact muscle function. So what is it about pickle juice that makes it ideal for leg cramps?

What’s in Pickle Juice that Helps Prevent Leg Cramps?

Pickle juice appears to treat leg cramps because of its acidity, which seems to trigger a reflex when it hits the throat, sending a signal to relax the muscle. The over-stimulated neurons, which are malfunctioning and reacting from overuse, are then reset so that regular communication with your nervous system is resumed. When this happens, the contraction stops, the muscle relaxes, and the cramping subsides.

The results show that leg cramping might not have anything to do with dehydration at all, but rather with some confusion in the central nervous system. Researchers still aren’t sure why the acid seems to be the perfect remedy for cramps; they just know that it works. There are also reports that drinking vinegar offers the same results—however, your taste buds might be a little more in tune with shot of pickle juice compared to some straight vinegar!

If you need to handle a leg cramp in a hurry, pickle juice is a highly effective remedy. It can help you get back on the playing field, continue your jog, ride your bike, or work out, and it can even help you during those random times when you’re hit with a cramp and don’t want to withstand the pain.

How Much Pickle Juice Should You Drink for Cramps?

One of the best parts about pickle juice is that you don’t have to carry around a big bottle of it; all you need is about three ounces, or a little under half glass, to handle leg cramps. If you pour a little out of a full pickle jar, just top it back up with vinegar—you don’t want to waste your pickles! On that note, you might be wondering what kind of pickle juice for leg cramps is best. The answer is simple: common dill pickles are the ones you’re looking for.

Why Every Athlete Should Have Pickle Juice for Leg Cramps

Pickle juice is essential for athletes because it allows them to both prevent cramps and quickly deal with them should they arrive. It lets them train, compete, and perform at their highest level. Because it only takes such a small serving and acts so quickly, it’s very easy to consume on the go when symptoms arise. Pickle juice before exercise can also help give you what you need to perform your best.

But it’s not just its ability to kill cramps that makes pickle juice so beneficial to athletes—there are also valuable nutrients to keep your body running at a high level and aid in the recovery process. Research has indicated it works virtually the same as sports drinks in supplying important electrolytes such as sodium and magnesium, as well as nutrients such as calcium, all of which are very important for athletic performance. The sodium content in two ounces of pickle juice, for example, offers 400 milligrams of sodium, while sports drinks have 225 milligrams in the same serving.

Another component of pickle juice that might beneficial to athletes is that it may help replenish glycogen stores during and after workouts. The acetic acid can help metabolize carbohydrates and fats.

Other Benefits of Drinking Pickle Juice

Drinking pickle juice for cramps can offer quick relief, but it can also be used for several other conditions.

  • Hangover cure: It helps to replenish sodium levels that have been lost through dehydration. Although dehydration might not cause cramps, it does make a hangover worse.
  • Exercise: You need lots of nutrients during intense exercise, and drinking pickle juice before a workout gives you what you need.
  • Pickle juice for menstrual cramps: PMS can result in plenty of lost fluids and nutrients, so drinking pickle juice can help to keep you hydrated and alleviate cramping. It can also help tame salt cravings.

How to Reduce Muscle Cramps Naturally

Of course, there are other leg cramp remedies; pickle juice isn’t the only one. Here are a few more ideas to relive the pain!

  • Stretch (this works for most cramps, especially in the calves).
  • Apply some pressure in the center of the cramp for a few minutes; it hurts, but it works! (This works very well for foot cramps. Put your foot flat on the floor and put all your weight on it like you were trying to press it through the floor.)
  • Apply heat to the area (using water or a heating pad).
  • Sleep with your toes pointed up or to the side.
  • Use Epsom salts.
  • Ensure you have an adequate calcium intake.

Tips to Prevent Muscle Cramps

You can also limit your chances of cramping, whether you’re an athlete or not, by:

  • Staying hydrated;
  • Eating a nutritious diet;
  • Warming up before activity;
  • Stretching after workouts;
  • Eating carbohydrates around workouts; and
  • Making sure you eat salt, but not from processed foods; table salt and sports drinks are fine.

So, does pickle juice help cramps? It may seem odd, but the answer is yes. So don’t throw out the juice when you’re done with that jar of dill pickles—it could save you some discomfort in the future!

Originally Published: https://www.doctorshealthpress.com/food-and-nutrition-articles/drinking-pickle-juice-for-cramps-harvard-approved-salty-solution/

Why Every Athlete Should Have Pickle Juice

By Kelli Jennings For Active.com

Muscle cramps can bring even the strongest athlete to his or her knees. And while, there are a number of theories as to what causes cramps—including hydration, bike fit, form and electrolytes—they seem to happen more in races than in training.

Despite the lack of answers as to why cramps occur, a number of remedies have cropped up in recent years. Some of them are probably already in your pantry.

The Research

Research, as far back as several decades ago and as recently as 2013, suggests pickle juice relieves cramps. In the 2013 study, cramps lasted about 49 seconds less when participants drank pickle juice rather than water.

The first assumption is that fluids and sodium are anti-cramping agents.  However, other studies have concluded that the plasma volume and plasma concentrations of sodium remain unchanged after pickle juice consumption, leading researchers to believe something else is causing the cessation of the cramps.

Most experts think it’s the vinegar.

It’s believed that the vinegar triggers a reflex that alerts our brains to tell our muscles to stop contracting and relax, and the muscle cramping is reduced as soon as the vinegar touches receptors in the mouth.

Bring a small amount of pickle juice with you on your next training session (2 ounces is usually enough) or try the Pickle Juice Sports Drink.

Mustard contains vinegar in smaller, but potentially effective amounts as well. However, it has not been as well studied as pickle juice. Packets of yellow and honey mustard are portable on the trail or road, and often easier to consume than pickle juice. Mustard has up to 100 milligrams of sodium per packet and also contains turmeric, which is helpful for muscle soreness and inflammation.

Beyond the cramps, pickle juice and mustard provide other benefits for athletes:

Sodium: Adequate intake can improve hydration and reduce cramping, at least in practice. Just 1 tablespoon of mustard has 200 milligrams sodium and 2 ounces pickle juice has more than 400 milligrams sodium. Just 2 ounces of the pickle juice sports drink has about 225 milligrams sodium.

Glycogen Replenishment: Vinegar, which is chemically known as acetic acid, can provide the acetyl group. This is a fundamental building block for the Krebs Cycle and helps to metabolize carbohydrates and fat to produce energy and ATP for cells. 

If you’re prone to cramps bring a bottle of pickle juice or packet of mustard to your next training session or race. Consume them at the first sign of cramps and you might be able to keep training or racing and full speed.

Kelli Jennings, RD and sports nutritionist, is the owner of Apex Nutrition, LLC.

Originally Published: https://www.active.com/nutrition/articles/why-every-athlete-should-have-pickle-juice