It might sound disgusting but drinking pickle juice for cramps may work. Or does it?
The endorphins are pumping. You’re feeling great. But a few miles into your run, you stop dead in your tracks.
Your calf muscles tighten. You wince in pain. Cramps are ruining your plan for a 10 miler today.
Should you wait for the pain to subside? If so, will you be able to continue the run? After all, it’s likely that the pain can return.
Sure, you can try some light stretching. But that’s no guarantee the pain will disappear for good.
Maybe the best thing to do is drink some pickle juice.
Seriously? Pickle juice?
For many people, the combination of aged cucumbers, salt and water is a panacea for several ailments. Perhaps the most common folk remedy involving the briny beverage is alleviating muscle cramps.
Is there any proof it works?
There’s at least one study that provides some evidence drinking cured cucumbers cures cramps. It was published in the Journal of Pickle Juice Science.
Just kidding. Not about the fact that there’s at least one study; that part is true. But it comes courtesy of this research in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Why would researchers devote precious time and resources to setting the record straight on drinking pickle juice (PJ) for cramps? Because lots of people say it works.
In fact, the folk belief is that PJ can relieve cramping within 35 seconds of drinking it.
Moreover, it doesn’t take a large amount for it to work. At least, that’s the common, lay conception.
Is your fitness trainer crazy for telling you to drink pickle juice?
And it’s not just Eastern European grandmothers who prescribe PJ. According to this research in the Journal of Athletic Training, of 370 athletic trainers polled for the study, 25% of them gave PJ to athletes for the prevention or treatment of muscle cramps.
But let’s get back to the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise research.
On two different days, one week apart, muscle cramping was induced in a muscle in the sole of the foot. The abbreviation of the muscle is “FHB.” And for anybody who has ever experienced a cramp in this area, they are all too familiar with the location of the FHB.
As if this torture weren’t enough, 30 minutes later, test subjects were induced with yet another cramp. Immediately after the cramp, the subjects drank one milliliter per kilogram of bodyweight of PJ. (The control group was given purified water (with no salt added.)
The verdict? The researchers conclude that PJ, not water, prevents cramping. Especially if someone lacks hydration to begin with. But the curious thing is the researchers aren’t sure why it works.
“This effect [is not because of] rapid restoration of body fluids or electrolytes.”
The theory the researchers provide for why pickle juice for cramps might work is “a neurally mediated reflex that originates in the oropharyngeal region and acts to inhibit the firing of alpha motor neurons of the cramping muscle.”
In other words, maybe PJ tells your brain to shut off the cells that transmit nerve impulses, including the ones the brain registers as pain.
Pickle juice for cramps and dehydration
Not all exercise performance experts are on the PJ bandwagon. In fact, as the above Journal of Athletic Training reports, there’s concern PJ can make you even more dehydrated, which is a common cause of muscle cramping.
And although the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study supports evidence it works, the Journal of Athletic Training suggests it doesn’t. At least not for rehydration.
The study is small, with only nine subjects. The researchers conclude PJ does not produce substantial changes in electrolyte levels.
Electrolytes are minerals that serve as spark plugs for cells. Without sufficient minerals in the cells, vitamins lack the catalyst to perform their functions.
When you’re in a state of dehydration, your electrolyte levels are low. Thus, you’re at more risk for cramping.
So what can we conclude from the two above studies?
Not much. More studies are necessary to make any definitive conclusions. But the takeaway suggestion is that PJ might not help you if you’re suffering from severe dehydration. In fact, it might dehydrate you even more.
However, in the case of muscle cramping, PJ might work. Maybe there’s some magical compound in it that shuts off the pain response?
As you can see, there’s conflicting evidence as to whether or not pickle juice for cramps works. Some health care professionals believe the high salt and low fluid content can raise body temperature even higher. That’s a dangerous thing if you’re already in a state of dehydration.
If you’re a PJ believer, take solace in the fact there’s no evidence to support that it’s harmful for health.
Is drinking pickle juice a foreign concept to you? If so, you’ll just have to see for yourself if it works.
Using pickle juice for pain
There are two types of PJ. The type you can find in gourmet stores undergo a fermentation process. To keep the probiotics in the PJ alive, these particular pickles must be refrigerated.
On the other hand, the average commercial variety that comes in jars isn’t fermented; it’s preserved in vinegar.
Although vinegar PJ lacks probiotics, vinegar itself can alleviate stomach upset. But just like pickle juice for muscle cramps, there’s no evidence concluding guzzling PJ soothes belly aches.
However, it might work because of the acidic pH of vinegar. You see, certain digestive disorders have at their root cause low stomach acid. Thus, perhaps drinking a glass of PJ provides the stomach with much needed acid.
The problem with this theory, though, is if you have low stomach acid, drinking PJ might be the equivalent of pouring fuel on the fire.
If you have low stomach acid to begin with, you won’t be able to digest PJ very well. Drinking pickle juice for cramps may (or may not work). But definitely don’t try to self-medicate with it if you have a stomach ulcer.
Do pickles affect your period?
In fact, drinking too much PJ can make bloating and stomach pain worse. Especially if you’re on your cycle. Nonetheless, PJ for menstrual cramping is a folk remedy.
But maybe there is some validity to using it for this reason. If it can turn off pain nerve impulses in the feet, as referenced in the study above, perhaps PJ can deaden menstrual cramping as well?
There is one benefit of PJ when you’re on your cycle: satisfying your craving for salty treats.
And if you’re thinking that it’s a good idea in general to drink PJ because of probiotics, think again. In comparison to a probiotic supplement, which contains billions of colony-forming-units (CFUs), the amount in PJ is tiny.
But according to Medical News Today, there is one impressive benefit of vinegar-rich PJ. It can make you more sensitive to insulin. This means that it can lower your blood sugar after eating.
The problem with this conclusion is the same as that for pickle juice for cramps. There’s only one study that supports this claim.
Does Drinking Pickle Juice Work?
Pickled cucumbers have been consumed for at least 4000 years. We’re still waiting for evidence that drinking pickle juice works for cramps and other ailments.
Do you drink pickle juice? Does it work for you? Leave a comment.