UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
How does potassium prevent menstrual cramps and cramps during physical activity?
Question Date: 2010-03-08
Answer 1:

That's a great question!

Cramping occurs when the muscle tissue is unable to properly regulate its contractions, but the biological cause(s) of cramping are still under investigation. Potassium imbalance may be a cause of cramping in certain cases, so taking potassium may lessen cramps if low potassium is the cause. Potassium, an essential nutrient in our diets, is an electrolyte. This means that it is found in the body as ionized salt that can become electrically charged. Potassium and sodium work together across cell membranes to regulate muscle contractions, among other critical body functions. If there's too little potassium, a condition called hypokalemia can develop, with symptoms including: fatigue, muscle weakness and cramping, intestinal complications, and in very serious cases, muscular paralysis.

Exercise can increase the need for potassium to replace that which is lost from muscles through sweat. Low potassium can cause muscle cramping and cardiovascular irregularities. It is thought that when the fluid that bathes the connection between muscle and nerve is depleted of sodium and potassium by sweating, the nerve then becomes hypersensitive, causing muscle twitches and cramping. Eating foods high in potassium, such as oranges, bananas or potatoes can prevent these symptoms. Many sports drinks are potassium poor and not good substitutes for potassium-rich foods. With a healthy diet of potassium rich foods, potassium supplements should be unnecessary, even with exercise or menstrual cramping.

Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2020 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use