Although we can’t definitely tell you that your leg cramps will stop if you change your diet, we can offer some insight about why they might.
At Heart & Vascular Institute, with offices in Dearborn, Detroit, and Southfield, Michigan, one of the conditions our experts treat frequently is leg pain caused by a condition called peripheral artery disease (PAD). Changing your diet could help ease the symptoms of PAD.
Leg cramps and PAD
PAD is a cardiovascular condition that happens when your veins are damaged. That damage usually occurs when you have atherosclerosis — fatty deposits in your blood vessels that cause them to narrow and stiffen.
When you have PAD, the blood doesn’t flow as well to your legs and feet as it should. When you walk, your calf muscles demand more blood; when it doesn’t arrive, the result is cramping.
The medical name for that cramping is claudication. Over time, as your condition worsens, you may also experience pain when you’re resting, especially when you’re lying down.
PAD and inflammation
PAD is a chronic inflammatory disease. One of your immune system’s main defenses is inflammation. If you have a small wound, inflammation is part of the healing process.
When you have PAD, however, your immune system remains in wound-healing mode. The ongoing inflammation becomes harmful and increases the damage to your blood vessels.
Anything you do that worsens inflammation can worsen your PAD symptoms. For example, smoking is an inflammation trigger and it’s well-established that smoking worsens PAD.
The diet connection
Just as smoking increases your overall level of inflammation, so does eating certain foods.
Consuming an anti-inflammatory diet — one that includes foods known to decrease inflammation and avoids those known to make it worse — may improve your health overall and specifically ease the symptoms of PAD.
The American Heart Association offers specific dietary and lifestyle recommendations that may help improve your condition. Most of the guidance is common sense, such as eating an appropriate number of calories each day to maintain a healthy weight.
As for what to eat, aim each day for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean and healthy proteins, such as nuts, beans, and fish, and non-tropical vegetable oils like olive oil.
Avoid processed foods, added sugar, salt, fatty meats, and alcohol. Essentially, you want a heart-healthy diet low in fat and rich in healthy carbohydrates, fiber, and lean proteins.
The bottom line
By consuming an anti-inflammatory diet, you should lower your cholesterol, reduce your sodium intake, and eat foods that can help your body heal.
We can’t say for sure that this will make your legs stop cramping, but it will improve your health, slow the progression of your atherosclerosis, and lower your blood pressure.
If you have specific questions, schedule an appointment with one of our specialists at Heart & Vascular Institute. Leg pain isn’t normal, and it’s always a good idea to get an assessment if you have unexplained pain. We look forward to seeing you!