Graedons' Pharmacy: Remedies for hot-weather muscle cramps

July 15, 2014 

Q: If I work hard in the hot sun for a couple of hours, I get serious muscle cramps. Last week, I worked for nine hours at 90-plus degrees scraping, sanding, caulking and painting my house.

Later I had dreadful cramps in my back muscles, feet, hands and legs. My usual remedies (drinking hot mint tea, soaking in a hot tub) didn't work. I took a walk, but the cramps returned as soon as I sat down.

A friend told me to drink pickle juice. The cramps ceased after a tablespoonful. I have no idea how it works. It just does.

A: Many other readers have found that sipping pickle juice can get rid of muscle cramps quickly. It may be the sodium or the vinegar or some other unidentified ingredient. There's even some research to support this remedy (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, May 2010).

Another option is yellow mustard. One reader, a landscaper, offered this testimonial: "I keep mustard packets in my glove compartment, my emergency kit for disaster preparedness and two places in my home. They work for the kind of muscle cramps that come on over a period of hours. I have a very physically demanding occupation that causes me to sweat a lot. I imagine the imbalance in electrolytes has something to do with the muscle cramps. Swallowing a packet of mustard works fast."

Q: I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism a long time ago and prescribed Synthroid (levothyroxine). It improved my lab numbers (TSH), but never got them to normal.

As an aside, I have been under treatment for depression for decades. A new psychiatrist recently checked my thyroid and determined that the levothyroxine was not doing the job and recommended desiccated thyroid. Within a month, the depression

lifted, I started losing weight and am feeling better than I have in decades. Why don't doctors prescribe desiccated thyroid more often?

A: Many doctors believe that desiccated thyroid (Armour, Nature-throid, Westhroid) varies too much from one batch to the next to be reliable. But a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (May 2013) found that when Armour Thyroid was compared to Synthroid, almost half the participants felt better, scored higher on cognitive tests and lost more weight on the natural thyroid supplement.

People who would like to learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid problems and details on natural approaches may wish to consult our Guide to Thyroid Hormones. To order a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (70 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. T-4, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

Q: I have been using aloe vera gel for vaginal dryness on the recommendation of my urologist. It works for me, and I wanted to share this with your readers.

A: You are not the first one to suggest aloe vera gel. Another reader sent this: "My husband and I can't use K-Y Jelly or any other lubricant we have tried. They make me itch and burn.

"We have found, though, that the slimy gel that oozes from aloe leaf when you break off a piece is a very good lubricant. I hope this will help another couple."

Dermatologists caution that some people are allergic to aloe vera gel. It makes sense to test it on the forearm before putting it someplace very sensitive.

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

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