Sunday, December 11, 2011

Phun Physiology: Pickle Juice and Muscle Cramps

You’ve probably heard of the latest quick fix for muscle cramps: pickle juice. Is there anything to the claim that a few slurps of the sour brine actually stops muscle cramps? Moreover, what does the science say, if anything, on the matter? Stay tuned.

There have been many anecdotal testimonies claiming that pickle juice not only prevents muscle cramps, but that it relieves muscle cramps faster than anything else on the store shelf. And as randonneurs, we know that the worth of any convenience store is measured by the shelf space allotted to pickles.

The only problem sometimes is deciding which one!

Do you think that maybe some people may not find the mixture of vinegar (acetic acid) and salt (calcium chloride, sodium chloride) in water very appetizing?

Pickle juice has also been commercially packaged. This link to a YouTube video shows someone demonstrating how to drink pickle juice.

Every kid knows that the worst thing about medicine is taking it. But maybe, just maybe, we don’t actually need to drink pickle juice in order to receive its benefit! Read on . . .

Apparently, pickle juice does stop cramping. In controlled experiments, researchers have discovered that drinking pickle juice stops cramping in just over a minute, while water provides no relief from cramping.

However, because cramping ceased immediately, researchers now believe that the positive effects of the sour elixir are not due to its having been absorbed by the body. In other words, while pickle juice contains salt and fluids—which are known to alleviate cramping—they haven’t had time to re-establish proper fluid and electrolyte imbalances in slightly dehydrated human subjects. There goes one hypothesis out the window.

There’s more. Unless you really had your mind set on it, you can actually forego both the pickle and the briny solution, since research has also indicated that drinking vinegar by itself will relieve muscle cramps.

Not appealing, but you’re still in a pickle?

Don’t worry. Apparently, you don’t even have to swallow the vinegar!

In their search for a scientific explanation, researchers have hypothesized that there may be some specialized sensory receptors in the mouth and throat that communicate with nerve cells attached to the spasmed skeletal muscles, telling them to ease up. Or, in the researchers’ own words:

We suspect that the rapid inhibition of the electrically induced cramps reflects a neurally mediated reflex that originates in the oropharyngeal region and acts to inhibit the firing of alpha motor neurons of the cramping muscle.
If this is the case, my advice would be to obtain something with vinegar in it and simply: “Rinse and spit.”

Unless, of course, you’ve been hankering to go a round with “Hot Mama.” In which case, you’re on your own!

A word of caution: while pickle juice may provide an immediate fix for muscle cramping, don’t ignore the underlying causes, which still need to be remedied, including proper fluid and electrolyte balance. And do it as soon as possible!

Let’s ride!

1 comment:

Dennis Cardinale said...

Try apple cider vinegar! Has lots of ancillary benefits too. (google it!)