Why do you have muscle cramps
It’s an athlete’s worst moment: a hammy grabs like an old engine from the home stretch to Olympic glory or in the middle of your game of recreational hoops. Suddenly, instead of chasing gold or bragging about yourself, you collapsed to the ground praying for deliverance. And it’s not uncommon: Research reveals that muscle cramps associated with exercise affect up to 70% of endurance runners and cyclists. Who hasn’t had a cramp at some point while exercising?
You would think that science would have discovered a cure. After all, researchers have been studying cramps in industrial workers since the early 1900s. In 1932, researchers from Harvard’s “fatigue lab” traveled to the Hoover Dam construction site to take samples from workers. who have developed cramps from the heat. They noticed that people with cramps had lower levels of salt in their blood and little or no salt in their urine. Scientists reasonably concluded that the cramps were related to the loss of water and salt through sweat.
This idea that cramps are caused by dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes persisted. Athletes have been encouraged to consume sports drinks, salt tablets, and / or bananas (a source of potassium electrolyte) to relieve or prevent cramps. Coaches also started giving pickle juice to athletes with cramps, a brine of salt, vinegar and water. It worked so quickly that scientists found it to be biologically confused. “In our 2010 study, we had this weird phenomenon where the cramps seemed to go away faster when you drank pickle juice,” says Kevin C. Miller, Ph.D., ATC, University Cramping Researcher Central Michigan, “but there is no change in major electrolytes or blood.
In 1997, a working South African researcher put forward a muscle cramp theory that explained the phenomenon of pickle juice: two categories of neuroreceptors act like a kind of rocker for your muscles – and they can go haywire when you exercise. exercise. too hard. “One side tells your nervous system, relax, relax. On the other side, hey, get horny,” Miller says. “When you get tired there’s an imbalance in that sideways swing. exciting. ”
Miller now thought that something in the pickle juice – vinegar, maybe? – triggered a neural reflex in the mouth which descended along the spinal cord and calmed the overexcited rocker. But the people who had dedicated their careers to the study of dehydration did not change easily.
It’s hard to model muscle cramps in a lab, and people questioned Miller’s method of shocking the big toe until it cramped. This is not comparable to the cramps that occur after an athlete runs or rides a bike for hours, says exercise researcher Michael Bergeron, Ph.D. “When you tell me there is no sodium problem because your blood sodium level is normal, it tells me you have no idea what you are talking about, ”he says.
Nothing lights up academics like a pissing contest on a new theory. The experts quibbled over the official opinions of sports organizations, sent negative criticisms to each other’s discussions and criticized each other in the newspapers. On the one hand, you had people who believed Miller: it was a messed up neural process. Think of them as the neurological camp. On the other hand, the dehydration camp, which felt that removing electrolyte imbalances from the cramping equation was a mistake. To blur the controversy even further, a significant portion of sports nutrition research is funded by electrolyte-hydration brands. No one knew who to believe.
Marketing to the anti-cramps rescue!
In 2016, the makers of a product called HotShot released a 1.7-ounce drink that tastes like being hit in the face by a packet of Big Red gum. This is just the latest in a long line of over-the-counter cramp remedies including CrampX, Sportlegs, and various pickle juice formulations. But HotShot inspired a scathing editorial in a college journal and ignited the cramp blogosphere.
The inventors of HotShot were two scientists specializing in nerves and muscles: Rod MacKinnon, MD, who shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2003, and Bruce Bean, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology at Harvard. The two scientists had been kayaking together for years, and after a fateful trip off Cape Cod when they both suffered from forearm cramps, they stumbled upon the theory of neurological function and l Miller’s interpretation of pickle juice and applied their own research to them.
Bean and Dr. MacKinnon are both experts on ion channels, the chemical pores that make nerves and muscles work. They thought that if pickle juice caused a calming reflex in the mouth and digestive system, it could work through a set of pores called TRP channels. Activating them would cause neural interference in the spinal cord to stop the cramps in, say, your calf.
In their own kitchens, Bean and Dr MacKinnon experimented with ingredients that would target TRP receptors, including extracts of ginger, cinnamon, and capsaicin (from hot peppers). They tested the resulting formulation on themselves and their families, then conducted case studies using experimental models to induce cramps similar to big toe shocks invented by Miller.
Soon after, Dr. MacKinnon, Bean, and biotechnology entrepreneur Christoph Westphal, MD, Ph.D., founded a company, Flex Pharma, which began commercializing HotShot. In bold print, its website said the theory linking cramps to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances was wrong. The truth, according to HotShot, was that failed nerves caused cramps – and its treatment proved to be helpful.
The cramp experts were stinging. “There are some conflicting theories; no one knows which one is correct, ”says Shawn Kane, MD, a neutral observer in Cramp Wars and the editor of Current Sports Medicine Reports. “For a business to say that if you drink this you won’t have a cramp – that’s not correct. It’s based on a tiny glimmer of scientific knowledge, but this endeavor has taken it to the extreme.
That didn’t deter the HotShot team. “We believe in our science and our claim to be scientifically proven,” says Matthew Wohl, current CEO of HotShot. (Dr Westphal and Dr MacKinnon have left the company.) “We have conducted our own clinical studies proving efficacy, and [there was also] work that was done by Penn State, which was independent of us… We are firmly in the neurological camp.
Find smart solutions to muscle cramps
Corrine Malcolm, a keen environmental physiology graduate, says the HotShot dispute is a pervasive problem with sports supplements. She and former colleagues at Simon Fraser University coined the term bioplausible to explain how ideas that “might work” are quickly promoted to “work”.
In the case of HotShot, the theory was solid, but scientists on both sides of the debate were concerned about the distance between the claims and the data. While HotShot was thrilled to be “scientifically proven,” studies used by the company to market its product showed that the cramps were reduced in strength and duration, Miller says. “Everyone was still cramped. If HotShot is working, shouldn’t anyone have cramps? I mean, this is silly.
Oddly enough, scientists on opposite sides of the cramping debate have come together, but not towards a miracle cure. Many researchers now recognize that there are several factors that can cause cramps, including over or under training, quality of sleep, nutritional or water imbalances, hot or cold weather, and even limited range of motion.
Bergeron (dehydration camp) says that cramps generally fall into different categories, each with different causes and prevention. Miller (neurological camp) likes to think of it as a threshold. “Your recipe for cramps may be very different from mine,” he says. “Maybe I have cramps when I don’t sleep well or eat enough carbohydrates. And I pushed myself a little harder. If I get these three things happening to me, I have a cramp. If I get two of these three things, I don’t have a cramp.
HotShot is an official supplier to the United States Cycling Team, and they are now hoping Olympic runners will use it before an event to prevent cramps and build up mentally. While it reduces anxiety before the race, it might even help prevent cramps. Win, win.
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