Late 2011/early 2012 I started getting weird feelings in my legs at night. Not full blown cramp or sharp pain but a sort of crampy-ache which was difficult to ignore and which made it difficult to get to sleep. A bit of research suggested that it was magnesium deficiency and the symptoms disappeared within a few days of me starting to take magnesium supplements. PrimalMan has been experiencing painful calf muscle cramps from time to time during the night for a year or two now (they started before our change to a primal lifestyle). Taking magnesium supplements lessened the frequency and severity of the attacks but he still gets them occasionally. And then a few weeks ago I started getting the same thing.
Searching the web I found lots of information and advice among which most is anecdotal, inapplicable, irrelevant, conflicting or things we’re already doing. (Read eHow’s “What Causes Severe Leg Cramps While Sleeping?” for a sensible general overview). One thing I tried was taking bicarbonate of soda – the argument for doing so seemed logical and obviously has helped some – but this made things worse and I started getting cramps during the day as well. Thankfully the cramps stopped as soon as I abandoned the bicarb (I have since read elsewhere the conflicting advice to avoid bicarb and soda drinks if you suffer from cramp!).
Consulting Paleo forums; paleo; primal and low-carb blogs I found that a number of people living a primal/paleo lifestyle have experienced similar cramps although it is not, apparently, the result of the diet. For some the cause is an electrolyte deficiency which they have remedied by including more salt in the diet (using sea salt which is mineral rich rather than table salt which is made up of only sodium chloride with perhaps added iodine). As we both eat diary; I take zinc, magnesium and potassium supplements and our intake of salt has increased from almost zero from before adopting the Primal Lifestyle (having been led to believe salt was Eeeevil) my instinct is that this is probably not our problem.
For other people the problem is a taurine deficiency which can be remedied by eating taurine rich foods or taking taurine supplements. Taurine is an amino sulphonic acid which has many functions in the body including facilitating the passage of sodium, potassium and possibly calcium and magnesium ions into and out of cells. Taurine was originally classified as a non-essential nutrient (something that we don’t need to eat because the body can manufacture it). However the body can’t make taurine if it doesn’t have the materials that it needs to do so (the ingredients for taurine include vitmins B6, D3 and A and the mineral zinc) and taurine has now been reclassified as a conditionally essential nutrient (you will need to eat it if you aren’t manufacturing enough!).
High-protein animal foods are good sources of taurine with ox heart being the richest source. I have been unable to get hold of any ox heart locally so I am going to have to resort to supplementation in the short term.
The taurine supplements arrived in this morning’s post. PrimalMan and myself will try them for a couple of weeks and then report back on whether or not they have been effective for us.
When I get hold of some heart one of the first recipes I am going to try is this one for Sweet Heart Jerky from Paleo Parents. I’m not sure how much taurine a day we will need but a few strips of jerky every day should help. Another recipe I’ve ear-marked to try is this one for Curried Beef Heart which was posted only yesterday by tgipaleo.
Aside from taurine’s relationship to cramp I was also interested to learn that patients with Parkinson’s Disease have low levels of taurine (my father had Parkinson’s) and that research is underway to determine if taurine can be used to treat macular degeneration (my mother has A.M.D.). Two more reasons to for making sure I get enough taurine.
And if the taurine fails…
Quinine is used by the medical profession as a last resort for treating leg cramps (because of potential side effects). Drinking tonic water is said to be helpful for cramp as quinine is one of the ingredients. Most of the tonic water that you can buy contain ingredients that I really don’t want to be ingesting and which have detrimental effects on the body (Schweppes Indian tonic water for example contains: carbonated water, sugar, citric acid, flavourings (including quinine) and sweetener (sodium saccharin). Yuk! I found this recipe from Jeffrey Morgenthaler for making your own tonic water. I haven’t tried it myself yet but if the taurine supplementation/ox heart consumption doesn’t work then it’s the next thing on my list to try.