Occasionally people write to me about late payments, subpoenas and cease-and-desist orders, you know, normal correspondence that everyone gets, but sometimes I am sent a letter regarding one of my columns. Some columns draw a response for a longer time, but the column that just won’t die was published almost five years ago, titled “Leg Cramps and Cashews.” I still get an occasional e-mail — not from readers who thought it was amusing or brilliant, but from people who will pursue any shred of information that might relieve them of their nocturnal leg cramps.

Okay, let’s get this straight right up front. I am the last person anyone should be writing for medical advice. Never have I even played a doctor on stage or even used a stethoscope. With every day that passes and with every health-related document I read, I seem to know less — and what little I do know is partially obscured by a growing cloud of uncertainty.

But back to the problem at hand — or at the leg if you will — apparently there is not much research going into nighttime leg cramps because people who don’t get them figure, hey, no harm done. It’s not like the cramps are contagious or will liquefy your internal organs. The most dangerous thing about them is that a bystander could be mercilessly bowled over by someone who is suffering an attack and doing the midnight jitterbug, as sufferers tend to do to extinguish the pain.

I mean it’s only pain, and temporary at that. Granted, it’s major-temporary pain not unlike a sword thrust into your calf or thigh and then twisted, only there is no blood or even a wound and sooner or later everyone is back to bed maybe with a stubbed toe from stumbling around in the dark and a sore throat from all that screaming. By lunchtime the next day, the whole ugly episode is forgotten and it’s business as usual, so why bother finding a cure when we still haven’t got a handle on preventing pimples?


When my own leg muscles go rogue and I am suddenly besieged by this handiwork of the devil, I take my own pain management approach and start gulping down water from a bottle I keep at my bedside. It’s not to hydrate myself as much as to distract my muscles and trick them into normal behavior. It takes a lot of coordination to drink something. It’s like telling my body, “Hey, you muscles, listen up, I’m drinking this water here and I might choke on it if we aren’t all careful or coordinated, so calm down.” So far, I’ve convinced myself that this helps.

I am also considering having a ukulele to play and pretend that everything is all right just to becalm the rebellious muscles. What’s that? Yes, of course I considered an accordion, but if my neighbors hear me screaming and playing the accordion at 3:45 in the morning, they may think I’m some kind of a nutcase.

So about the nuts: in my old column I postulated that there may be a connection between eating large quantities of cashews, in particular, and leg cramps. People write to me and report that they have discovered their cramps can be turned off and on like a switch by eating or refraining from nuts. It’s a nutty situation because all my own experiments ended with ambiguous results: I now suspect that there only might be some strange correlation between cramps and eating nuts, unusual exercise, going on vacation and screaming — although the screaming happens during the cramps so it’s hard to point at that as a causal agent. So are we onto something or are we all nuts? I don’t know. Everyone is different.

Again, I am not an authority but, if you want to feel better, the only sound piece of medical advice I can give you is to sit yourself down in front of a wonderful cup of coffee and a nice piece of cheesecake and enjoy it while it lasts. Eat slowly; make it last a long time. As far as pharmaceuticals go, a splash of Baileys Irish Cream or suitable generic substitute in that coffee can go a long way in enhancing the experience.

And one more thing: stop putting nuts on your cheesecake and in your coffee.