Have you ever experienced a sudden involuntary contraction of the muscles that are so painful to endure? Did you freeze on a spot due to the sudden tightening of the muscle tissues? I am sure most of us get caught up in them from time to time, and it’s never an exciting encounter. Some last a few seconds, but when they persist, they are commonly called muscle cramps. But, have you ever asked yourself What Vitamin Deficiencies Cause Muscle Pain and Cramps? And What are the Best Vitamin supplements for leg cramps?
Well, that’s what exactly we are about to explore in this article. As a health expert with extensive experience in the field, I will provide valuable insights and evidence-based information on how vitamins can help alleviate leg cramps.
Different muscle groups experience muscle contractions, but when contractions occur in the leg muscles, particularly the calf and thigh, they are known as leg cramps.
Reasons for Leg Cramps
These leg cramps could happen for several reasons, but whatever the reasons are, the experience is awful. If you’ve ever been awakened in the dead of night or stopped on your track by these sudden involuntary contractions of your leg muscle, you know that leg cramps can cause untold pain. Some call it Charley horse.
Whatever name you know it by, are you aware that the older you get, the more muscle cramps you experience and the more painful it gets?
Your sex, being a female
Are you also aware women suffer more night-time cramps than men? Yes, they do.
According to the Medical University of South Carolina, approximately 60% of adults experience cramps from time to time. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) goes further to say that adults above 30 experience more cramps and its frequency increases with age.
Similar research published in BMC Family Practice reports that roughly 1 in 3 adults over 50 years have nocturnal or nighttime leg cramps lasting from a few seconds to 15 minutes. This is because we tend to lose muscle mass as we age, and the remaining muscles end up more easily over stressed.
You might not be that old, but I understand there’s often limited explanation for age and sex as the causes of leg cramps.
Also, our dehydration rate increases with age.
Leg cramps are closely associated with dehydration.
Extreme muscle use
Poor blood circulation
Certain medical conditions
Sometimes, nutritional deficiencies increase the frequency of these cramps.
Here is the list of reasons in a table for you.
|Age||Muscle cramps become more frequent and painful as one gets older.|
|Your sex, being a female||Women tend to experience more night-time cramps compared to men.|
|Dehydration||Leg cramps are closely associated with dehydration.|
|Extreme muscle use||Overexertion of muscles can lead to cramps.|
|Poor blood circulation||Inadequate blood flow to muscles can cause cramps.|
|Alcohol||Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to muscle cramps.|
|Pregnancy||Pregnant women may experience leg cramps due to hormonal and circulatory changes.|
|Certain medical conditions||Conditions like heart disease, hypertension, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s may trigger cramps.|
|Nutritional deficiencies||Inadequate intake of essential vitamins and minerals can increase the frequency of cramps.|
|Nighttime leg cramps||Cramps that occur predominantly during the night.|
Nighttime Leg Cramps
This video explains about nighttime leg cramps.
Tip: If you are with diabetes, here are the Vitamins you should make sure to include in your diet to help you manage diabetes better.
Vitamins for Leg Cramps and Muscle Pains
Clinical detection of vitamins deficiencies in our body can take a while. If the body isn’t getting sufficient amounts of vitamins, it may take weeks or even months of low vitamin level before the effects are evident. But, did you know that the surest indicator of vitamin deficiency is muscle cramping?
Low levels of some vitamins and minerals can result in recurring cramps. Once these deficiencies are addressed, the problem of frequent leg cramps will likely resolve on its own accord.
According to a 2019 Healthline Editorial, deficiency in the essential vitamins can trigger recurring cramps because these organic compounds provide essential mineral support and enhance cardiovascular well being.
When your cramps lingered, and your dietician may prescribe vitamins as a sure relief, one question persists though.
As an experienced health professional, I can attest that identifying vitamin deficiencies can be challenging, but muscle cramps often act as a clear indicator. When the body lacks certain vitamins and minerals, muscle cramps become more frequent. Resolving these deficiencies through proper nutrition or supplements can lead to a significant reduction in leg cramps.
Tip: Did you know Lecithin supplements can help you manage high blood pressure well.
How Do Vitamins Prevent Cramps and Muscle Pains?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine all recommend introducing a balanced diet with adequate dietary requirements for vitamins and minerals into our daily meal as they are essential for reducing the frequency of cramps.
In simple words, eating a healthy and balanced diet helps reduce the frequent occurrence of leg cramps. Some research-proven vitamin supplements that help reduce muscle cramps include the B Vitamins, Vitamin C, and the fat-soluble vitamins D and K.
Essential Vitamins and Supplements to Prevent Leg Cramps and Muscle Pains
Don’t mistake vitamins for supplements. Vitamins are the essential food nutrients required for bodybuilding. They’re natural substances needed for our body to function normally and remain healthy.
Dietary supplements, on the other hand, are nonessential vitamins that promote health. For our muscles to contract properly, they need the help of essential vitamins.
It is, therefore, necessary to have an adequate diet. Still, it is equally important not to introduce too many vitamins to the body as certain vitamins can build up and cause problems later on.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) warns that some dietary supplements interact with prescription medication and can result in more complications. It is therefore vital, before introducing a vitamin or supplement to our routine, to consult a doctor to be certain such vitamin wouldn’t interact with other medications.
Eating well-balanced meals should never be traded for supplements. However, dietary limitations or busy work schedules can make introducing well-balanced meals into our daily routine a bit challenging. Also, strict vegans and vegetarians may lack B12 since this vitamin is mostly present in animal-based foods. Before introducing supplements, detailed knowledge of the kind of vitamin your body requires is essential.
|Vitamin||Role in Preventing Leg Cramps||Food Sources|
|Vitamin B||Supports nerve and muscle function||Milk, cheese, eggs, chicken, nuts, leafy greens|
|Vitamin C||Aids in collagen formation, improves blood circulation||Citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, peppers|
|Vitamin D||Enhances muscle and bone health||Fortified milk, cereals, fatty fish|
|Vitamin K||Promotes blood clotting and muscle function||Kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, green beans|
Now, let’s dig further into essential vitamins to prevent leg cramps and leg muscle pains.
Have you ever taken a stroll down a busy park only to be brought to your knees by a muscle-paralysing leg cramp? I have, and the experience is awful. I literally sat on the busy walk path for close to five minutes. Did taking daily vitamin supplements as my dietician recommends help avoid a reoccurrence of such an awful experience? Absolutely.
A class II study on the effect of Vitamin supplements on muscle cramps appearing in a neurology Journal presents a possible explanation. The study explains that taking vitamin B complex – a supplement containing B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folic acid), and B12 (cobalamin) – not only assist proper brain function and healthy hormone production but produces red blood cells and maintains healthy body tissues, which can potentially reduce muscle cramps.
Tip: Vitamin B is one of the Best Supplements for Stress as we noted in our guide to the best vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential oils for stress and anxiety.
As a health expert who has experienced muscle cramps personally, I can testify to the effectiveness of vitamin B supplements. The B-complex vitamins have played a crucial role in not only reducing the frequency of muscle cramps but also in promoting overall well-being.
Food rich in B vitamins include
- nuts and seeds,
- wheat germ,
- dark green vegetables,
- soya products,
- yeast, and
- fruits like banana, watermelon, and citrus.
Another study by Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation (NDT) shows that the intake of Vitamin C supplement significantly decreases the frequency and intensity of leg cramps. According to the study, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, and the combination of both E and C produce cramp reductions of 54, 61, and 97% respectively. This percentage of cramp reductions have no significant link with age or sex.
Also known as Ascorbic acid, Vitamin C repairs and maintains cartilage and bones. It also aids in poor blood circulation, which is a known cause of leg cramps. The absorption of iron, a significant cramp prevention mineral, is improved by the presence of vitamin C. Because our body is not able to make vitamin C on its own and neither is it able to store it, it is necessary to include a considerable amount of food rich in vitamin C in daily diet.
The best natural sources of vitamin C are the uncooked or raw fruits and vegetables. These sources may include fruits like;
- Kiwi fruit,
- pineapple, and
Vegetable sources include;
- green and red peppers,
- cabbage, and
- other leafy greens.
Some cereals and beverages are also fortified with vitamin C. By fortified; it means vitamin C has been added to it.
Cooking foods rich in vitamin C for longer or storing them for prolonged periods can reduce the vitamin content. Instead of cooking, microwave or light-steam vitamin C rich foods as this will reduce cooking losses. Nutritionists advice to buy orange juice sold in a carton instead of a clear see-through bottle as exposure to light can also reduce vitamin C content.
As one of the common vitamins, Vitamin D is highly essential for bones and muscle health. The Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease reported once that replenishing vitamin D in our body can have a considerable effect on not only muscle but also on bone health.
Although the study shows that it doesn’t directly affect leg cramps, low vitamin D level in the body reduces the absorption of magnesium. This vital mineral assists in proper muscle contraction. Poor leg muscle contractions is a major cause of leg cramps.
Less Vitamin D Means Less Phosphorus and Calcium
Adequate intake of phosphorus and calcium, two minerals that make bones strong and dense, also requires an abundance of Vitamin D. Poor absorption of these minerals is more likely to result in leg cramps. It can also result in excessive sweating, which can help to depletion of cramp prevention minerals.
Inadequate exposure to sunlight is the most common cause of vitamin D deficiency in the body. You can assist your body to make more Vitamin D by exposing your skin to 7 am – 10 am morning sunlight for over 10 to 15 minutes.
Some dietary sources which can help you avoid vitamin D deficiency are below.
- fortified milk,
- orange juice,
- soy milk,
- cereals, and
- grain products.
Egg yolk, fish, fish oils and cod liver oil are examples of unfortified sources. However, natural (unfortified) food alone hardly gives enough vitamin D that our body needs. In this case, vitamin D supplements can help prevent deficiency when sunlight exposure is inadequate.
Vitamin K is commonly associated with leg cramps too. If you’re convinced the cause of your frequent leg cramps is vitamin K deficiency, it’s possible that simply adding this vitamin to your daily diet can help ease the pains.
One of the greatest yet less commonly known importance of vitamin K in our system has to do with blood clotting. Vitamin K helps blood coagulate and form clots naturally.
If you’re receiving medications to thin the blood perhaps due to an illness, be careful to monitor the amount of vitamin K you introduce into your diet.
If you’re taking anticoagulant drugs, consult your doctor first before including vitamins to your daily meals or changing diet, especially when such changes involve vitamin K supplements, or food rich in vitamin K.
Bananas might be a major source of vitamin k, but they’re not a good source. Nutritionists advise that a full cup of broccoli has 200 times the vitamin K present in bananas. Kale, spinach, turnip greens, and green vegetables are among the highest known sources of vitamin K. Green beans, cabbage, and parsley also contain a high percentage of vitamin K. Strawberries and dill pickles are equally rich.
In conclusion, a well-balanced meal abundant in fruit, vegetables and healthy fats should meet your daily nutritional requirement with little or no need for supplements. But for older people who produce lower levels of stomach acid needed to release B12 from protein in food, dietitians recommend you take daily vitamin supplements from a reasonable and reliable source. In the United States, for example, supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Only accept supplements from established and trusted brands.
Tip: Here are the best protein drinks for people with diabetes.
Consultation is a necessity before agreeing to the use of supplements. If you have health concerns, first speak to a registered dietitian or certified doctor before including supplements to your diets.
If leg cramps persist despite genuine efforts to stop them, consult with your physician. It may not be a result of vitamins deficiency. It may be an indication of an underlying condition in need of urgent medical attention.