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Dealing With Painful Leg Cramps
Dear Advice Lady,
My husband started the Atkins diet three weeks ago, and lost 9 pounds in that time. He only had about 20 to lose altogether. However, he quit because he said his legs ached. He was taking a multiple vitamin and mineral complex, but it was a battle for me to get him to take it each day. He also didn't drink as much water as he should, but again I'd have to nag to get him to drink more. He says he felt fine on the diet other than that. I can't believe going back to milk, Gatorade, bread, and french fries is better for him, but he says the leg aches are worse than buying larger slacks. I've never had anything like what he describes on the diet, so I can't relate. Any idea what he may be missing, or what he can do?
Devoted but Frustrated Wife
Dear Devoted —
While this is a rare effect of the diet, it is a well-known one. The reasons it occurs are usually two-fold. First, carbohydrates supply twice the Adenosine Triphosphate (tissue stores of electrolytes in solution) as fatty acids, the other supplier. So increasing fatty acids in the diet — eating more fish, nuts, and flax — is a good start to conquering these cramps.
The other issue is nutritional, vitamin, mineral balance. Many people believe the low carb diet means pretty much just meats and fats, and very few vegetables. In reality, you need those vegetables to get proper nutrition. Either way, making a few changes and additions to your supplement routine should do the trick.
When your husband started his low-carb regime, it's likely his dietary protein levels rose. When protein makes up more than 30 percent of your daily calories, potassium levels may fall far short of the needed 3,500 milligrams each day. If you're eating lots of vegetables, salads, etc, it's likely you’ll get enough potassium on your own, but if not, cramps — especially leg cramps — might result.
Cramps are more prevalent when you first start low carbing. After a few months, they normally disappear on their own. To make them go away sooner, you can take one 99-milligram tablet of potassium a day.
But there are other supplements also known to stay leg cramps and are surely worth adding to your husband's diet. Many doctors recommend magnesium for the prevention of leg cramps, and I have heard of many low carbers who swear this was their salvation from painful cramps. The RDA for magnesium is 350 mg/day. Average intake in the USA is between 143 and 266 mg/day. 500-1000 mg/day would be good for most low carb dieters.
You might want to start with a dose of 250 milligrams of magnesium glycinate or chelated magnesium twice a day. These amino acid-based mineral supplements are easier to absorb than magnesium oxide. The more you absorb, the less likely it is that you’ll have diarrhea, a common problem with magnesium supplements.
To help relieve cramps that interrupt your sleep, take your second dose of magnesium right before you go to bed. If you don’t get relief in three to five days, increase the dose to 500 milligrams twice a day.
Two other supplements may also be of value:
A special form of niacin (vitamin B3) called inositol hexanicotinate is known to help treat chronic calf cramping. Start with 500 mg 3 times a day and work up to 1 g 3 times a day after 2 weeks.
Pyridoxine, vitamin B6, is also known to reduce leg cramps in many people. B6 is necessary for the synthesis & breakdown of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, as well as aiding in the metabolism of fat. It reduces muscle spasms, leg cramps, and hand numbness and helps maintain a proper balance of sodium & phosphorous in the body.
So, to recap, my suggestion would be to add the following to his diet each day:
Why go back to gaining weight, feeling lousy and endangering your health with Gatorade, bread, and french fries, when muscle cramps are a simple matter to "fix"?
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