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Do bananas help with cramp?
Most of us have experienced the excruciating pain of muscle cramps before. Although they are usually harmless and even if they only last a few seconds, any methods to get rid of cramps are highly sought-after. Predictably, health-conscious magazines and websites are filled with lists of foods you should eat to avoid cramp. Bananas are often at the top of these lists, but is it true that this fruit can reduce muscle cramps? We asked 2 experts in nutrition, ‘Do bananas help with cramp?’, here is what we found…
Do bananas help with cramp?
What are muscle cramps?
If you have ever experienced skeletal muscle cramps you would notice that, as well as being painful, the affected muscle is tight and impossible to move or relax. This is because muscle cramps are when muscles suddenly and involuntarily contract. When you are cramping you can also see and feel the contracted hard lump of muscle.
Muscle cramps occur most frequently in calf muscles but can also affect other muscles such as out feet and thighs. They can occur during or after exercise, or at random. The frequency and types of cramps seems to vary from person to person. A study published in 2017 found that 6% of the adult US population experience nocturnal leg cramps over 5 times a month!
It is not known what causes muscle cramps, but it is known that intense exercise, pregnancy, old age, and certain medications can increase your likelihood of getting them.
How might bananas help with cramp?
The humble banana contains a range of important nutrients. Dr Cornelie Nienaber-Rousseau, a nutrition expert from North-West University in South Africa, says “Bananas are rich in carbohydrates (22.84 g/100 g). They are also good sources of minerals. Eating a whole fresh banana will provide the body with potassium (approximately 467 mg), magnesium (34 mg) and calcium (37 mg).”
Other foods such as avocados, melons and sweet potatoes also have high levels of electrolytes.
What is the evidence that bananas help with cramp?
Many people use bananas to help with cramp, and there is lots of anecdotal evidence that this yellow fruit can stop or prevent painful muscle cramps. Dr Nienaber-Rousseau says “Bananas are considered a fast food among athletes for muscle cramp relief and post-exercise recovery”
However, Dr Nienaber-Rousseau goes on to say that “there are not a lot of scientific evidence to support consuming bananas to prevent muscle cramping. In 2014 Hallissey reported that even though bananas increased circulating plasma potassium concentrations, the threshold frequency of an electrically induced muscle cramp were not affected one hour of after ingestion.” The role of potassium and other electrolytes have been the focus of a few studies. A 2019 study measured how much electrically stimulation was required to induce leg muscle cramps in 12 cramp-prone participants. They found that more stimulation was required to induce cramps in the participants who had just drank an electrolyte beverage as compared to those that drank a similar-tasting non-electrolyte drink. Although this suggests that electrolyte levels play a role in cramping, the study only included 12 people and the differences between the experimental conditions were relatively small.
The theory that cramps are caused by electrolyte imbalances is not well established, partially due to the difficulty of measuring electrolyte levels: electrolyte concentrations are often measured in the blood, but local electrolyte levels around specific muscles might be different from these measured concentrations.
Dr Nienaber-Rousseau concludes that “more research is needed with different study populations to determine whether exercise-associated muscle cramps could be prevented or treated by eating bananas. Gentle stretching until cramping abates should be considered. Eating bananas are beneficial in general and recommended with other fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy balanced diet”
Bananas might help with cramp by replenishing electrolyte levels, however the scientific evidence for this is lacking. Even if they don't help with cramps, bananas contribute to a healthy diet along with other fruits and vegetables.
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