Natural products for a ‘charley horse’ problem?


Q: Can you tell me which natural products are good for charley horses?

A: This problem typically involves calf, thigh, and/or foot cramps that tend to be experienced at night. Experts say staying well hydrated is the most important preventive. Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water daily.(1)

And if charley horse cramping is a regular thing, it's important to see your physician because there are many possible causes – often involving some nutritional deficiency. This way you can rule out the possibility of incipient illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and circulation problems, and discuss blood panel testing for deficiencies & imbalances such as the following most common causes of cramping:

Electrolyte imbalances – Electrolytes are 'salts' in body fluids & tissue (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, etc.) that conduct electricity and must be present & balanced for proper muscle function. Often the problem accompanies a change in bodily water levels – e.g., dehydration.

Medications – Especially diuretics (water pills), can cause cramps by causing an imbalance in potassium and magnesium levels. Statin drugs may be a problem too. A pharmacist/MD can check your meds to see if a medication might be a problem.

Calcium deficiency – This is the most common cause of nocturnal cramping. If you're avoiding fat, consider nonfat yogurt and skim milk. And doctors may advise taking a calcium supplement at bed time.

Vitamin E deficiency – In a study of 125 patients with night leg & foot cramps, 123 found significant relief when they took vitamin E supplements (and in a second phase, when vitamin E supplementation was stopped, the cramping returned for most).

Magnesium depletion – This is an important and frequent cause of cramping, and a common deficiency in ME/CFS & fbromyalgia. Magnesium plays a key role in muscle relaxation. See "The Essential Nutrient Magnesium – Key to Mitochondrial ATP Production and Much More.”

Karen Lee Richards


1. This is a rough rule of thumb that doesn’t take variations in body weight, seasonal temperature/perspiration loss, or exercise into account.  Here’s one Daily Water Intake Calculator, which gives an idea of fluid requirements given your weight and different levels of activity. There’s also a video on preventing dehydration in hot weather.

* Writer/advocate Karen Lee Richards was one of the founders of the ME/CFS and FM patient movement. She co-founded the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) in 1997, was the first Executive Editor of  the NFA’s Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine, and is now lead patient expert for Health Central's ChronicPainConnection ( Karen is a long-time contributor on patient issues to

Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is general and is not intended to replace the attention of a trained medical professional, nor is it intended to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any condition, illness or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.

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