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Spicy Tastes Can Prevent Muscle Cramps, New Finding Says

Spicy Tastes Can Prevent Muscle Cramps, New Finding Says

Muscle cramps can be a huge problem for athletes and for those who try to keep themselves in shape – and athletes of the caliber of Rafael Nadal and LeBron James have been challenged by this problem in recent years. But the Wall Street Journal reports that new findings by a team of award-winning researchers (Nobel-prizing winning neuroscientist Rod Mackinnon and Harvard neurobiology professor Bruce Bean) have found new answers to the puzzle of what causes muscle cramps – and more importantly how they can be stopped in a healthy and natural manner.

Knowledge of Muscle Cramps Evolves

For most of the 20th century, Outside Online (a site dedicated to health and fitness), notes that doctors and researchers believed that muscle cramps happen when an athlete’s fluid or electrolyte levels become unbalanced or too low or when an athlete overuses his or her muscles while performing. However, for researchers that came later, that did not explain why cramps could occur when an athlete is at rest or stretching before or after a workout.

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In the 1990’s, South African physician Martin Schwellnus theorized that muscle cramping is actually a neurological problem: when the muscles get overused, the signals between the brain and the muscles get confused: signals get sent that tell muscles to contract when they should be telling them to relax. As a result, cramping and pain occurs.

Flex Pharma is Born

Bean and Mackinnon were intrigued by the idea that muscle cramping is neurological in nature and began to do research on the subject. In doing so, they came across several studies that showed a connection between the ingestion of spicy or pungent foods (such as mustard and pickle juice) and an easing in muscle cramps.

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The scientists realized that both mustard and pickle juice contain compounds called ion channel activators. These compounds appear to be able to, at the same time, stimulate nerves in the digestive system while relaxing nerves in other parts of the body.  The two men then decided to experiment and see which spicy or pungent foods appeared to be able to ease muscle cramping, sometimes even experimenting on themselves to gauge the effects of the different foods.

What was born of these experiments is a patented supplement which will be available sometime in 2017 by the company Flex Pharma, that Bean and Mackinnon founded together.  And this supplement has possible implications for more than just athletic performance: its creators are now in the process of applying to the FDA to be able to use this product to help treat the painful muscle cramping and spasms associated with serious conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS. While neither condition is curable, this kind of product could at least bring some relief to patients trying to manage their conditions from day to day and may even be able to improve quality of life.

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The Study in Context

It shouldn’t come as too big a surprise, however, that spices (or rather, the active compounds that these spices contain) should be able to help with cramping or pain. After all, capsaicin, the compound which gives hot peppers their actual heat, is now widely used to treat pain and inflammation in joints and muscles both. It is well-known for both its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Turmeric, too, has an active ingredient called curcumin which has been shown to help reduce pain naturally and is widely used for this particular property.

In short, when the new supplement from Flex Pharma hits the shelves in America some time next year, it should give athletes, bodybuilders and others who stay fit and active a new way to help with the sometimes debilitating pain of muscle cramps. What’s more, it will be a way that is safe, natural and, above all, effective.

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Brian Wu

Health Writer, Author

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Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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