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Does Pickle Juice Stop
Newswise — Whether you’re an elite athlete
or weekend sports warrior, muscle cramps can
affect performance. Research done by a North
Dakota State University professor may shed
light on how to alleviate them. Kevin C.
Miller, Ph.D., certified athletic trainer
and assistant professor of health, nutrition
and exercise science at NDSU, investigates
whether pickle juice affects muscle cramps.
In previous research, Dr. Miller found that
25 percent of certified athletic trainers
surveyed use extremely small amounts of
pickle juice to shorten the duration of
athletes’ cramps, under the assumption that
the pickle juice replenishes salt and fluids
lost to sweat.
What really causes the cramps and how to
relieve them quickly are some of the areas
of scientific study.
Miller and researchers at Brigham Young
University studied healthy male college
students in an exercise lab. Subjects in the
study bicycled in 30-minute sessions to
achieve mild dehydration.
The tibial nerve in the men’s ankles was
then stimulated, which causes a muscle in
the big toe to cramp. When subjects drank
nothing, the subjects’ cramps lasted
two-and-half minutes on average.
After resting, cramps were induced again,
but this time, men in the study immediately
drank 2.5 ounces of deionized water or they
drank pickle juice strained from a jar of
dill pickles in a double-blind fashion.
Blood samples were taken before and after
the men drank the fluids to see if blood
sodium, potassium, magnesium, or calcium
levels changed after drinking.
Study results show that pickle juice
relieved the cramps about 45 percent faster
than if the men drank no fluids and about 37
percent faster than those who drank water.
more interesting,” says Miller, “is that
study results showed there were no
significant changes in the blood following
ingestion of either water or of pickle
Dr. Miller’s research has shown that mild
dehydration may not be the culprit that
causes muscle cramping.
Since the pickle juice used in the studies
did not have time to leave the men’s
stomachs during the experiment, the pickle
juice would not have had enough time to
replenish lost fluids and salt in affected
The research conducted by Miller and his
team leads to the theory that another
mechanism causes such cramping and the
pickle juice acts like a set of brakes on a
car to stop it. He suspects that muscle
exhaustion rather than mild dehydration
might be the cause, since other research has
found that mechanisms in muscles can misfire
if a muscle reaches exhaustion.
Miller says the pickle juice may affect
nervous system receptors that send out
signals that then disrupt the muscle
“The relief of cramping by pickle juice
likely represents a neurological phenomenon
rather than a metabolic one,” says Miller,
whose research has been published in
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, in
the Journal of Athletic Training, Muscle and
Nerve, and in Athletic Therapy Today.
So what’s an athlete to do?
cautions people not to drink large amounts
of pickle juice and to talk with their
physician first before trying pickle juice,
given the high prevalence of hypertension in
Rather than reaching for the nearest jar of
pickles, if a muscle painfully cramps,
Miller suggests stretching it. He emphasizes
all his studies have been done on healthy
young men, so results may not apply to
weekend warriors or female athletes.
Miller will be presenting his research and
speaking about the causes of muscle cramps
at the National Athletic Trainers’
Association Annual Meeting in Philadelphia
on June 23.
Dr. Miller joined the NDSU Department of
Health, Nutrition and Exercise Science in
2009. He received his bachelor’s degree from
the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay,
master’s degree from the University of
Wisconsin-La Crosse and doctorate degree in
physical medicine and rehabilitation from
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.