Graedons' Pharmacy: Plain yellow mustard helps with leg cramps

September 24, 2013 

Q: Years ago, I read in your column about using plain, old yellow mustard for leg cramps. When I get cramps in the calves of my legs at night, they are so severe that I just about break my neck trying to get out of bed as quickly as possible. Standing up and walking around does help a bit, but the cramps still leave me in agony.

Once I swallow a tablespoon of French's mustard, it generally helps me within a minute or so. My daughter suffers from occasional leg cramps as well and also has found relief by taking a spoonful of mustard. When I'm traveling, I make certain that I have a small bottle of mustard in the car with me.

A: We don't know why mustard works so well against muscle cramps. It may be the turmeric included for its yellow color, or it could be the vinegar or the salt. However it works, many readers agree that this remedy has rescued them from excruciating leg cramps.

Here's one story: "Several doctors have run full metabolic panels on me but never found an electrolyte imbalance to explain my horrible leg cramps. One doctor prescribed potassium just in case, but it didn't help. Another suggested calcium -- also no help.

"I took quinine tablets for 10 years until the Food and Drug Administration banned its use for cramps, but it gave only partial relief. Luckily, a friend had read about mustard the same month I stopped quinine, and the years since then have been wonderful.

"Muscle cramps have multiple causes. No one answer seems to work for everyone. But nothing has matched mustard for me. I even keep it in my car for long trips."

Q: I have suffered from frequent bellyaches, gas and fatigue for years. I chalked these symptoms up to stress, but when my poop started to float, I wondered if I needed a gluten-free diet. Getting off gluten helped, but not entirely.

When I went to my doctor, she tested me for everything under the sun. She found I was infected with a germ called H. pylori. After taking pricey antibiotics plus probiotics, my stools no longer float. The smelly gas is gone, and I feel so much better.

A: H. pylori infection doesn't always cause symptoms, but it can result in abdominal pain, bloating, nausea or vomiting and burping. This bacterial infection also can cause stomach ulcers.

Antibiotic treatment can sometimes upset the microbial ecology of the intestines and may cause symptoms on its own. That's why probiotics were a smart addition to your regimen. A review in the Journal of Nutrition (March 2007) showed that probiotic treatment may help suppress H. pylori infections.

For more information about overcoming gas, celiac disease and H. pylori, we offer our Guide to Digestive Disorders. A copy can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

Q: Does vinegar help in reducing cholesterol? I've read that 1 tablespoon in a glass of water daily might help.

A: There are no clinical trials of this remedy. Animal studies have been inconsistent. There is some data to suggest that vinegar can help lower blood sugar after a carbohydrate-containing meal (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 2010).

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Email them via their website: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is "Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them."

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