Tuesday, March 20

How to prevent muscle cramps? - How to avoid muscle cramps?

Yes, you can prevent muscle cramps if you know the possible causes of muscle cramps.
Everyone of us would have experienced sudden painful muscle cramps during our sleep and also during our activities. In our daily activities our voluntary muscles are in a state of contraction and relaxation to control movements and posture. When the contraction (shortening, tensing or tightening) is involuntary for a brief movement with immediate relaxation, it is called spasm. If this type of involuntary contraction is forceful, painful and sustained, it is called cramps.

The duration is variable with cramps lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes and may occur multiple times before restoration of normal function. In most cases, skeletal muscle of the lower extremities like calves, thighs, arches of the foot and toes is involved. Sometimes smooth muscle cramps may be experienced  in menstruation, endometriosis or gastroenteritis.

There are multitude of reasons for their occurrence and each individual incidence may have a different cause. The general cause is overworked or strained muscle and to prevent getting cramps we should not strain them. Causes of cramps include excessive flexing, oxygen depletion in body, sudden large changes of temperature, loss of body salts and electrolytes and dehydration.

Certain medications used for high cholesterol, hypertension, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and diuretics can also cause cramps. Considering the causes and also the body parts involved, skeletal muscle shortening can be categorized into true cramps, dystonic cramps, tetany and contractures.

Hyper-excitability of nerves

  • Hyper-excitability of nerves stimulates muscle groups and causes true cramps.
  • Persistent contractions may be experienced after an injury as a protective response of the body.
  • To some extent pain relief medication and rest can prevent these contractions.
  • Straining and vigorous activity may induce contractions. It may happen during the activity itself or up to six hours after the cessation of the activity.
  • Proper warming up and cooling down exercises must be done before and after strenuous activity, workup and games to prevent these involuntary actions.
  • Similarly sitting or lying in the same position for extended period of time can cause fatigue and cramps.
  • Frequent change in position and stretching of the muscle involved can prevent tensing.

Prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance

Lots of body fluids may be lost due to hot conditions, strenuous exercises, excessive vomiting and chronic diarrhea. Use of diuretic medicine also removes body fluids and electrolytes. These situations lead to dehydration and low sodium, calcium and magnesium levels in the body fluids. This causes electrolyte imbalances in body fluids and results in muscle cramps.

To prevent such involuntary contractions sufficient water and fluids must be consumed in a regular basis. After considerable sweating,  replacement of electrolytes should be considered by taking electrolyte formulations.

Prevent nutritional deficiencies

Nutritional deficiencies of sodium, magnesium, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B complex can cause cramps. To totally remove sodium from diet during treatment of hypertension can lead to cramps. In such cases moderate intake of sodium salts and fruit juices can prevent cramps.

Vitamin D is vital for the absorption of calcium in the body and any deficiency can lead to calcium imbalance. To prevent vitamin D deficiency sufficient exposure to sunlight and intake of vitamin D supplements is necessary.

Most of the vitamins in the B complex group have the function of toning up nerves and muscles and any deficiency can cause cramps. Intake of balanced diet and if necessary supplements can prevent deficiency of vitamins.

How to prevent acute cramps in sleep

Acute cramps during resting and sleeping is a most common occurrence especially in elderly.
  • To prevent such woes, attention must be given to their diet. Though the diet may appear balanced, deficiencies may arise as with old age the digestion and absorption capacity of GI tract declines.
  • The help of geriatric dietitian may be sought to balance their diet and supplements.
  • Apart from balanced diet, sufficient fluids must be consumed to prevent these acute cramps.
  • Moderate exercise to tone up the leg muscle and stretching legs a few times before going to bed can prevent this misery.
In tetany, spasms or cramps occur throughout the body due hyper-excitement of nerves. This conditions usually occurs due to imbalance of calcium and magnesium in body fluids; prevent tetany by consuming supplements.

Contractures are spasms wherein the affected muscle group is unable to recover from contraction. Usually muscle failure is due to depletion of glycogen and blood glucose leading to depletion of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) in cells.

Repetitive activities can produce dystonic cramps wherein the muscle not required for the intended movement and/or working in the opposite direction of the movement contracts; prevent repetitive activities for long duration. Regular moderate exercises, intake of balanced diet and consumption of sufficient fluids can prevent muscle cramps.

Saturday, March 17

Vitamin E and Prostate Cancer - Raised risks in vitamin E supplements

Does vitamin E supplementation increase the risk of prostate cancer?
The risk of prostate cancer was found to increase when vitamin E supplements were given for a long period. JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) published a study on the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) and concluded that "Dietary supplementation with vitamin E significantly increased the risk of prostate cancer among healthy men."

Vitamin E in the form 'Alpha-Tocopherol' increases prostate cancer risk

The initial report of SELECT trial found no reduction in the occurrence of this cancer either with selenium (200 μg/d from L-selenomethionine) or with vit. E (400 IU/d of all rac-α-tocopheryl acetate). However in the longer follow-up studies the occurrence of prostate malignancy in healthy SELECT subjects has established a relationship of this cancer with 'all rac-α-tocopheryl acetate'.

The point to be noted here is that 'all rac-α-tocopheryl acetate' was the form of alpha-Tocopherol used in this SELECT trial. In fact vit. E is a group of compounds which are fat-soluble and comprise four types of tocopherols and four types of tocotrienols. In natural food all the eight types are present in different proportions.

Alpha-Tocopherol constitutes the major source of vit. E in European diets while in North American diet gamma-tocopherol is the major constituent. Though early research had focussed on alpha-tocopherol, of late the higher beneficial traits of gamma-tocopherol and tocotrienols are being recognized.

Vitamin E in the form of Tocotrienols has been found to help in prevention of cancer, reduction of cholesterol, protection from stroke-induced brain cell injury, lowering tumor formation, protection against DNA and cell damage and suppression of cancer of pancreas, breast, prostate gland and skin.

Vitamin E in the form 'Gamma-tocotrienol' is effective against prostate cancer

Recent studies by Luk Su et all have reported that vit. E in the form of Gamma-tocotrienols (γ-T3) can be an effective therapeutic agent against  prostate cancer stem cells (CSCs) and advanced stages of malignancy. Alpha-tocopherol is found to interfere with tocotrienols benefits by interfering with their absorption and increasing their catabolism.

Synthetic alpha-tocopherol is produced and marketed as vit. E supplement whereas synthetic tocotrienol is not produced as a supplement though technically possible. Further research in these lines and production and marketing of alternatives like Gamma-tocotrienols is required.

It can be safely concluded that vitamin E as 'Alpha-Tocopherol' increases the risk of prostate cancer while in its 'Gamma-tocotrienol' form can be an effective therapeutic agent against this malignancy.

Thursday, March 15

Beer and kidney stones

Does beer treat kidney stones?
The answer, contravening the common belief, is that beer does not treat kidney stones. There is a general belief that consuming beer helps in preventing kidney stones (renal calculus) and treating them. In some studies, it was found that there is reduction in the formation of kidney stones when beer is consumed regularly. However it was also found that in excess drinking of beer, the oxalate and urate in the urine increase, creating potential chances for the formation of kidney calculi.

When beer or any other alcoholic beverage is consumed the water content in them increases the urine volume and any small kidney stones below 8mm size may get flushed out. Actually the water is doing the trick and if we consume large quantities of water same results can be achieved.

Contrary to the prevailing belief, persons prone to renal calculi or suffering from them should avoid beer and other alcoholic drinks as the acidic environment may induce formation and growth of kidney calculus. Though there may be a few health benefits in beer, the alcohol component, has many negative effects on liver and kidney.

Renal calculus is really a solid hard mass made up of small crystals. There are different types of kidney stones and these calculi take weeks and months to form. They are classified according to their location in the body as nephrolithiasis(kidney), ureterolithiasis (ureter), or vesicle calculus (bladder).

Depending upon their chemical composition, they may be made up of calcium phosphate, calcium oxalate, struvite, cystine or urate (uric acid). The incidence of kidney stones is common and may run in families. Men are more prone to develop the renal calculi, especially in the 25-45 year group.

Though the exact reason for their formation may not be clear, one well documented and the biggest risk factor is insufficient fluid intake. In the adults, if the urine output is less than one liter a day, there is a great risk in development of renal calculus. The common symptom of kidney stones is pain in the belly area below the ribs extending to side and back.

The pain also may manifest as groin or testicular pain. There may be other symptoms like fever, blood in urine, abnormal color of urine and nausea. The renal calculi can be easily diagnosed by abdominal CT scan or abdominal x-rays. Drinking sufficient fluids in the form of orange juice, lemon juice, beer and plain water to form at least 2 liters of urine is the best treatment for kidney stones.

If the calculus is too large to passed along urine, then hospitalization and treatment by Extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy (to break up calculus) or nephrolithotomy (open surgical removal) may be resorted to. As prevention is better than cure, kidney stones can be prevented by drinking plenty of fluids including water and not by beer alone.

Wednesday, March 14

Knee pain remedies - Knee pain help

Help for prevention, treatment, relief and remedies for knee pain

Knee pain is a very common problem faced by us at one time or another and the remedies during the pain and self help in preventing injuries are very important.
Knee is the most used joint of the body, and is the largest and the very complex one. As knee is a weight-bearing joint, all our daily activities like standing up, straightening, sitting, bending, walking, running, twisting and rotating are with its help and any pain or injury requires seeking immediate remedies.

To deal with knee pain two aspects of remedies are to be considered. Foremost is in taking preventive measures to protect ourselves from injuries to knee. The second aspect is in seeking immediate remedies and medical help when knee injuries occur.

Help in preventing knee pain

  1. We have to keep our body weight under control so that the stress on this weight-bearing joint is reduced.
  2. We have to avoid running on hard  surface and also on uneven surface.
  3. We should use proper suitable foot wear to protect this joint from taking jarring shocks while walking or running.
  4. Proper warming up is a must before doing any strenuous activities or exercise.
  5. Exercising your hamstrings (muscles on the back of thigh), quadriceps (muscles on the front of thigh), abductors (muscles on outer thigh) and adductors (muscles on inner thigh) regularly will keep the joints flexible, strong, stress free and less susceptible to injury.
  6. We should not neglect persistent pain and inflammation and seek medical help at the earliest.

Help and remedies in acute injuries

Acute injuries may occur during strenuous sports by twisting of knee or falling. In such situations pain relieving sprays and medication can help momentarily. However immediate medical help must be sought to control further damages due to inflammation, bleeding into the joint, edema and fluid accumulation. It is important to note that inflammation and swelling hampers free movement of the knee and can lead to further damages.

Help and remedies in Overuse

Our postures, repetitive movement, overuse and excessive pressure may cause knee pain due to inflammation of the various bursae (bursitis) around the knee joint. Bursae are small sacs of synovial fluid resting at the points where muscles and tendons slide over bone and they make the normal movement smooth, frictionless and painless.

Remedies for knee pain due to overuse are restrained activities, physiotherapy, anti-inflammatory drugs and use of ice packs.
Ice pack remedies
Ice is useful in reducing pain and swelling. Ice pack may be kept around the knee for about 15 minutes. After 48 hours, alternating warm pack and cold pack every thirty seconds also reduces swelling. This can be done for ten to twenty times.

Wax bath
One of the very useful and effective remedies is wax bath. However you have to seek the help of a physiotherapist for equipment etc.

Compression bandage
Compression wrapping with elastic bandage of the affected knee also brings down swelling.

Elevation
Keep the affected joint at a higher elevation, if possible above the level of heart to bring down fluid accumulation and swelling.

Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis also causes inflammation of bursae and the remedies lies in anti-inflammatory medicine and in seeking the help of medical professional.

Help and remedies for Osteoarthritis of knee

Osteoarthritis, a form of degenerative arthritis involving cartilage, is another common cause of joint inflammation, especially in elderly. Rest, anti-inflammatory medicine and exercises to strengthen the thigh muscles are the remedies. Also seek the help of medical expert for advice on your nutritional status.

Chondromalacia patella

Chondromalacia patella usually occurs in teens and young adults causing pain. In this condition the knee cap (patella) at the knee joint does not slide properly and rubs against the lower part of the thigh bone. Rest, use of anti-inflammatory medicine and physiotherapy are the remedies. Seek doctor's help if the knee pain is severe or persists.