Agony. Pure agony. That’s the only way I can describe the handful of painful cramping episodes I’ve endured during my decidedly unspectacular cycling career. Whether during races or long weekend rides, the result was the same. Stop on the side of the road or trail and hobble around, trying to coax my body to stop betraying me. It usually happens during hot days on long hard rides, but I honestly don’t have a firm grasp on why or when I cramp — and I’m not alone.
According to biotech company Flex Pharma, an estimated 95 percent of adults experience muscle cramps and more than 4 million adults over the age of 65 suffer nightly leg cramps in the United States. Although it’s widely believed that cramps are a dysregulation of muscle contraction, the cause of these contractions is elusive. The most prevalent theory is that cramping is the result of dehydration or a lack of electrolytes in the muscles.
Count me among the believers of this hypothesis. For long races, I’ve typically relied on a mix of electrolyte pills and copious amounts of sports drink. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. That’s why my personal interest piqued at bold claims emanating from a new Boston-based Flex Pharma, which claims it may have found the panacea for this performance crushing ailment. Be warned that right now these are just claims, but their take is new and interesting. In a nutshell, they say the answer to the problem is pickle juice on steroids.
“We have discovered that by activating certain channels found in sensory nerves, there appears to be an impact on hyperactive motor nerves, and those appear to be what causes cramps in the first place,” explained Dr. Bob Murray, an advisor to Flex Pharma. “And basically that positive activation can be caused by a bunch of spices.”
This theory is rooted in recent research, including work by two neuroscientists, Nobel Prize winner Dr. Rod MacKinnon and Harvard professor Dr. Bruce Bean, who founded Flex Pharma and are suggesting that muscle cramping may be caused by uncontrolled repetitive firing of neurons in the spinal cord, resulting in prolonged contraction of the afflicted muscle under the control of the nerve. Therefore treatments that reduce this hyperexcitability of these nerves may reduce or prevent cramping. Check out this video to hear more from MacKinnon.
[vimeo width=”610″ height=”343″]https://vimeo.com/134738687[/vimeo]
MacKinnon reasoned that nerves could be recruited to prevent muscle cramps and that the stimulation of the sensory nerves in the mouth, throat, esophagus and stomach that triggers a response from the nerves could calm down the motor neurons in the spinal cord.
“Our early finding when experimenting with induced foot cramps is that when subjects consumed spices it helped prevent cramps for up to 4 hours,” added Murray. “That was from 2oz shot. But these subjects were at rest. The current recommendation with our product will be to consume 15 minutes before race and then if needed during competition. You’ll just sip to coat mouth. It will be similar in amount to something like 5 Hour Energy.”