nocturnal leg cramps

A new study shows that magnesium oxide is not significantly better than placebo for treating nocturnal leg cramps.


Waking up in the middle of the night with painful tightening contractions on calves, thighs or feet is a common event for those with nocturnal leg cramps, and it impacts more than 60% of adults. Currently, there are no safe and effective treatments available for this condition, and patients must endure the pain and poor-quality sleep.

Magnesium is an essential element in the body that is involved in muscle contractions, normal brain functions, and generating cellular energy. In Latin America and Europe, magnesium is a common remedy for nocturnal leg cramps. It was shown to treat leg cramps for pregnant women, but there hasn’t been much success for those non-pregnant individuals. This failure of success may be attributed to the types of magnesium used in previous studies, since different types of magnesium have different absorption rates in the intestines and availability in the body. For instance, magnesium oxide supplements are better in increasing magnesium levels in the body than magnesium citrate supplements. However, previous studies investigated the benefits of magnesium citrate for nocturnal leg cramps, not magnesium oxide.

A randomized clinical trial published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal investigated, for the first time, the effect of oral magnesium oxide in nocturnal leg cramps. This took place in northern Israel, from February to October 2013, and 94 adults older than 21 years were randomized into the placebo group (46 individuals), and the magnesium oxide group (48 individuals). The capsules were taken once daily at night time for 4 weeks. The researchers observed that, for both the placebo and magnesium oxide groups, numbers of leg cramps per week decreased significantly. However, there were no statistically significant differences in the number, severity, and duration of cramps between the two treatments. Thus, the clinical trial showed that magnesium oxide, in comparison to placebo, did not have any beneficial effect for treating nocturnal leg cramps.

It must be noted that the study only had a modest number of participants and they were mostly elderly individuals (average age around 63 years). However, the number of participants and duration of the study were similar to other reported trials, so it is unlikely that the positive effect of magnesium oxide was missed.

Magnesium is essential for proper bodily functions, and the supplements are purchased worldwide. Unfortunately, for the purpose of treating those nocturnal leg cramps, magnesium supplements might not be the answer, especially for elderly.


Written By: Boram Ham, PhD

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