DEAR DR. GOTT: I am not a scientist but I have conducted a scientific experiment. I hypothesized that sodas cause leg cramps after I found I was not having them for years when I gave up soda. Yesterday, I drank four large sodas and one diet soda. I awoke at 4 am with a leg cramp in my right quadriceps.
I have found only two things that will stop the leg cramps. One, pumping my foot and two, standing up and putting a bar of soap on my leg per your column. I don’t even put the soap on stop of the sheet, I just rub it on the spot and the cramp stops and doesn’t come back. Thanks for the soap tip, doctor!
I have a second theory I want to test, also. I don’t get cramps when I drink club soda, so I think there is something in the soda – Color? Sugar? Sweeteners? – that cause the cramping.
DEAR READER: I’ll start with the answer to your second theory. Club soda likely doesn’t cause cramps because it contains potassium. This mineral, when adequate amounts aren’t consumed, is commonly associated with muscle cramps. Other minerals such as calcium and magnesium can also be to blame. Regular and diet sodas don’t have vitamins and minerals, with the possible exception of vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid as a preservative.
Sugar substitutes such as those found in diet sodas can adversely affect individuals who are sensitive. Headaches, dizziness, gastrointestinal upset and more may occur. In your case, leg cramps may be a side effect to a sugar substitute; however, since you had both regular and diet soda in the same day I cannot say that definitely.
Beyond the sugar substitute, I cannot guess at what is in the soda that would cause you problems. Perhaps it is simply the fact that you are filling up on empty calories and neglecting other, more nutritional beverages or foods, thereby causing a brief electrolyte, vitamin or mineral imbalance.
As for my soap remedy, it is actually soap-under-the-sheets rather than on top of them. I recommend placing an unwrapped bar under the bottom fitted sheet near the legs which can be left in place. Others have had success by grating the soap directly onto the mattress so that no lump is felt and the effect can appear anywhere on the mattress. This is especially useful for individuals who toss and turn or have cramps in other areas of the body at night. Your variation of placing the bar of soap directly onto the leg is intriguing. I recall a few other readers with a similar solutions who rubbed liquid soap directly onto the leg or placed a small bar into socks when experiencing leg cramps while sitting in a chair or on the couch. All that said, you have discovered the cause of your cramps, so I recommend you continue to avoid regular and diet sodas. If you ever experience a craving for the bubbly beverage, I suggest you try mixing club soda and a juice, such as raspberry or cranberry. It provides the same satisfying bubbly sensation, but has a higher nutritional value than that of more traditional sodas.
Readers who are interested in learning more about home remedies can order my Health Reports “Dr. Gott’s Compelling Home Remedies” and “More Compelling Home Remedies” by sending a self-addressed, stamped number 10 envelope and $2 (for each report) to Dr. Peter Gott, PO Box 433, Lakeville, CT 06039. Be sure to mention the title when writing or print an order form from my website, www.AskDrGottMD.com.