Archive for the ‘Muscle Cramps’ Category

Researchers at The University of Auckland have shown for the first time that the mere presence of carbohydrate solution in the mouth immediately boosts muscle strength, even before it is swallowed.

The results suggest that a previously unknown neural pathway is activated when receptors in the mouth detect carbohydrate, stimulating parts of the brain that control muscle activity and producing an increase in muscle strength.

Previous research had shown that the presence of carbohydrate in the mouth can improve physical performance during prolonged activity, but the mechanism involved was not known and it was unclear whether a person must be fatigued for the effect to be seen.

“There appears to be a pathway in the brain that tells our muscles when energy is on the way,” says lead researcher Dr Nicholas Gant from the Department of Sport and Exercise Science.

“We have shown that carbohydrate in the mouth produces an immediate increase in neural drive to both fresh and fatigued muscle and that the size of the effect is unrelated to the amount of glucose in the blood or the extent of fatigue.”

The current research has been published in the journal Brain Research and has also captured the attention of New Scientist magazine.

In the first of two experiments, 16 healthy young men who had been doing biceps exercises for 11 minutes were given a carbohydrate solution to drink or an identically flavored energy-free placebo. Their biceps strength was measured before and immediately afterward, as was the activity of the brain pathway known to supply the biceps.

Around one second after swallowing the drink, neural activity increased by 30 percent and muscle strength two percent, with the effect lasting for around three minutes. The response was not related to the amount of glucose in the bloodstream or how fatigued the participants were.

“It might not sound like much, but a two percent increase in muscle strength is enormous, especially at the elite level. It’s the difference between winning an Olympic medal or not,” says co-author Dr Cathy Stinear.

As might be expected, a second boost in muscle strength was observed after 10 minutes when carbohydrate reached the bloodstream and muscles through digestion, but no additional boost in neural activity was seen at that time.

“Two quite distinct mechanisms are involved,” says Dr Stinear. “The first is the signal from the mouth via the brain that energy is about to be available and the second is when the carbohydrate actually reaches the muscles and provides that energy,” says Dr Stinear.

“The carbohydrate and placebo solutions used in the experiment were of identical flavor and sweetness, confirming that receptors in the mouth can process other sensory information aside from the basic taste qualities of food. The results suggest that detecting energy may be a sixth taste sense in humans,” says Dr Gant.

In the second experiment, 17 participants who had not been doing exercise and were not fatigued simply held one of the solutions in their mouths without swallowing. Measurements of the muscle between the thumb and index finger were taken while the muscle was either relaxed or active.

A similar, though smaller effect was observed as in the first experiment, with a nine percent increase in neural activity produced by the carbohydrate solution compared with placebo. This showed that the response is seen in both large powerful muscles and in smaller muscles responsible for fine hand movements.

“Together the results show that carbohydrate in the mouth activates the neural pathway whether or not muscles are fatigued. We were surprised by this, because we had expected that the response would be part of the brain’s sophisticated system for monitoring energy levels during exercise,” says Dr Stinear.

“Seeing the same effect in fresh muscle suggests that it’s more of a simple reflex – part of our basic wiring – and it appears that very ancient parts of the brain such as the brainstem are involved. Reflexive movements in response to touch, vision and hearing are well known but this is the first time that a reflex linking taste and muscle activity has been described,” she says.

Further research is required to determine the precise mechanisms involved and to learn more about the size of the effect on fresh versus fatigued muscle.

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Article adapted by MD Sports from original press release.
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Contact: Pauline Curtis
The University of Auckland

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A study published in Angiology shows that supplementation with the pine bark extract Pycnogenol® (pic-noj-en-all) improves blood flow to the muscles which speeds recovery after physical exercise. The study of 113 participants demonstrated that Pycnogenol significantly reduces muscular pain and cramps in athletes and healthy, normal individuals.

“With the millions of athletes worldwide, this truly is a profound breakthrough and extremely significant for all individuals interested in muscle cramp and pain relief with a natural approach. These findings indicate that Pycnogenol can play an important role in sports by improving blood flow to the muscles and hastening post-exercise recovery, said Dr. Peter Rohdewald, a lead researcher of the study.

Researchers at L’Aquila University in Italy and at the University of Würzburg in Germany studied the effects of Pycnogenol® on venous disorders and cramping in two separate studies.

The first study consisted of 66 participants who had experienced normal cramping at some point, had venous insufficiency, or were athletes who suffer from exercise-induced cramping. The first two weeks of the study was an observation period and participants did not supplement with Pycnogenol®. Symptoms related to venous disorders, and the number of cramping episodes each participant experienced over the two observation weeks was recorded.

Next, all the participants were given 200 mg of Pycnogenol once a day for four weeks. After the treatment phase, participants’ symptoms and cramping episodes were recorded for one week without any Pycnogenol supplementation.

The researchers found a significant decrease in the number of cramps the participants experienced while supplementing with Pycnogenol.® Participants who had experienced normal cramping had a 25 percent reduction in the number of cramps experienced while taking Pycnogenol.

Participants with venous insufficiency experienced a 40 percent reduction in the number of cramps, and athletes with frequent cramping experienced a 13 percent reduction in the number of cramps while on Pycnogenol.®

The second study involved 47 participants with diabetic microangiopathy (a disorder of the smallest veins commonly associated with diabetes), or intermittent claudication (a blood vessel disease that causes the legs to easily cramp).This study also used a two-week pre-trial observation period followed by a week of supplementing with Pycnogenol (200 mg per day for one week), followed by a week of observation without Pycnogenol® supplementation.

Patients with diabetic microangiopathy had a 20.8 percent reduction in pain, while participants with claudication experienced a 21 percent decrease in the amount of pain experienced while supplementing with Pycnogenol.® Results indicated participants who took placebo experienced no decrease in pain.

Cramps are a common problem for people of all ages, ranging to the extreme fit and healthy to people who suffer from health problems. Previously, magnesium was hailed as the natural approach for relieving muscle cramps, however studies continue to show magnesium to be inefficient for reducing muscle cramps.

“Pycnogenol® improves the blood supply to muscle tissue creating a relief effect on muscle cramping and pain. Poor circulation in the muscle is known to cause cramps and Pycnogenol® improved the cramping in patients due to a stimulation of blood flow to their muscle tissue. Nitric oxide (NO) a blood gas, is well known to enhance blood flow and Pycnogenol® may be influencing the activity of NO,” said Rohdewald. “The insufficient production of NO is the common denominator responsible for impaired blood flow in vascular disease.”

Strenuous exercise is known to involve muscle damage which may be followed by symptoms of inflammation. In separate studies published this year and in 2004 and 2005, Pycnogenol® demonstrated its anti-inflammatory effects in clinical trials for asthma, dysmenorrhea and osteoarthritis.

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Article adapted by MD Only Weblog from original press release.
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Contact: Pycnogenol®

About Pycnogenol®
Pycnogenol® is a natural plant extract originating from the bark of the maritime pine that grows along the coast of southwest France and is found to contain a unique combination of procyanidins, bioflavonoids and organic acids, which offer extensive natural health benefits. The extract has been widely studied for the past 35 years and has more than 220 published studies and review articles ensuring safety and efficacy as an ingredient. Today, Pycnogenol® is available in more than 600 dietary supplements, multi-vitamins and health products worldwide.