epsom salt benefits

Epsom salt has been used for many centuries to cure aches and pains. This age-old remedy is enjoying a renaissance these days thanks to the celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Elle Macpherson, and Victoria Beckham. Not only does this salt reduce bloating and improve your skin, but it also reduces pain, promotes sleep and relaxation, and reduces constipation.

Read on to know more about Epsom salt, its benefits, uses, and side effects.

What is Epsom salt?

Epsom salt is a chemical compound made up of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen. The chemical formula for this compound is MgSo4 (magnesium sulfate). Epsom salt takes its name from a town called Epsom in Surrey, England, where this salt was first distilled from the water of a bitter saline spring.

Epsom salt consists of small colorless crystals which look quite similar to table salt. In spite of the similar appearance, Epsom salt tastes distinctly different to table salt. It is actually very bitter and unpalatable.

History of Epsom salt

Epsom salt was discovered in 1618 in a town called Epsom when England was gripped by drought. Henry Wicker, a local cowherd, came across a pool of water that his cattle refused to drink from. The bitter water of this pool yielded a salt which has a laxative effect. Wicker also noticed that the wounds of the animals that waded in this water healed more quickly.

After this discovery, many people in England started traveling to Epsom for relief from gout, and its laxative effects. By mid-1600s Epsom became famous as a spa town. Epsom salt was officially named Epsom salt in 1695 by a scientist named Nehemiah Grew. He and his associate then manufactured and sold Epsom salt, but the wells in Epsom dried up by 1700s.

Most of the Epsom salt in America now comes from Giles ad PQ Corporation, which are USP and FDA approved (1).

How does Epsom salt work?

Epsom salt has many health benefits which are attributed to its magnesium and sulfur content. Magnesium regulates the activity of over 325 enzymes in the body; it reduces inflammation, helps in muscle and nerve function, and also prevents hardening of arteries. Sulfates improve absorption of nutrients, help flush out toxins, and ease migraine headaches.

When we dissolve Epsom salt in water, it releases magnesium and sulfate ions. When you soak in this water, these particles are absorbed through the skin and provide you with various benefits. You can apply it to your skin as a cosmetic or consume it as a laxative.

Benefits of Epsom salt

1. Improves magnesium levels

Soaking in an Epsom salt bath can improve magnesium levels in the body. Magnesium is the fourth highest abundant mineral in our body.  It is involved in over 325 biochemical reactions in the body and benefits the heart and the nervous system. Our body needs magnesium for muscle control, energy production, electrical impulses, and elimination of toxins. A deficiency in magnesium can lead to hypertension, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes mellitus, glaucoma, asthma, and ADHD (2).

Bathing in Epsom salt bath is an easy and safe way to improve magnesium levels in the body. According to a study from University in Birmingham, when 19 volunteers took Epsom salt bath for seven days, all except three showed a rise in magnesium concentrations in plasma (3).

2. Relieves constipation

Epsom salt is an FDA approved laxative. Mix two teaspoons of Epsom salt in an eight-ounce glass of water and drink it immediately. You can mix some lemon juice to improve the taste.  Drinking Epsom salt will produce a laxative effect between 30 minutes to six hours.

Magnesium draws water to the colon, which helps promote bowel movement (4). Magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) has a potent laxative effect in vitro through the release of digestive hormones and neurotransmitters (5). However, magnesium sulfate can lead to bloating and should not be used by older adults and people with renal insufficiency and cardiac dysfunction (6).

3. Reduces pain and swelling

Epsom salt baths can reduce pain and swelling. Warm water mixed with Epsom salts is a time-tested alternative therapy for arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lower back pain. According to data collected by the National Academy of Sciences, most Americans don’t get enough magnesium through their diet. Bathing in Epsom salt is a relatively inexpensive remedy and can boost magnesium levels by 35 percent (7).

According to research from the Medical University of South Carolina, people with magnesium intake below the required daily allowance are more likely to have elevated C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation (8). According to a small study from Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, transdermal magnesium chloride applied on the limbs may be beneficial to fibromyalgia patients  (9).

4. Lowers stress and promotes sleep

According to the University of North Carolina, magnesium deficiency enhances stress reactions (10).  A long soak in a warm bath is a great way to lower stress.  Adding Epsom salts to warm bath water helps improve the stress lowering effects of the warm bath.  Epsom bath allows the body to absorb magnesium through the skin, which has positive effects on stress.

Magnesium intake helps the brain to produce neurotransmitters that induce sleep and reduce stress (11). It also helps the body to produce melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep (12). Magnesium is also needed for the production of energy in cells. When magnesium levels are increased in the body through Epsom salts, you feel relaxed and revived.

5. Helps remove toxins

A warm Epsom salt bath can improve the body’s natural detoxification process and promote healing. This salt contains magnesium and sulfate, which are both critical for the detoxification process. Magnesium aids the removal of toxins from the body. Sulfates strengthen the walls of the digestive tract and make the release of toxins easy.

6. Improves blood sugar levels

Deficiency in magnesium can lead to diabetes mellitus. Studies have also shown that ingesting food rich in magnesium can reduce the risk of diabetes and its complications (13). Since Epsom salt contains magnesium, its regular intake can help regulate blood sugar and lower the risk of diabetes.

7. Improves exercise performance and recovery

Taking Epsom salt baths can help relieve muscle soreness and relieve muscle cramps, both of which are essential for exercise performance and recovery. Epsom salt contains magnesium which is involved in numerous processes that affect muscle function, including oxygen uptake, energy production, and electrolyte balance.  Research shows that marginal magnesium deficiency impairs exercise performance and amplifies the negative consequences of strenuous exercise. Increased intake of magnesium has a beneficial effect on exercise performance in people that are deficient in magnesium (14).

8. Helps treat asthma

Asthma is a health condition that leads to inflammation in the airways that move air in and out of the lungs. The symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Magnesium sulfate is a natural treatment for bronchial asthma. It relaxes the bronchial muscles and helps expands the airways, which allows more air to flow in and out of the lung.

Doctors usually administer magnesium sulfate through an intravenous injection or infusion. In some cases, the patient can inhale magnesium sulfate using a nebulizer. During a 2014 study, 1109 adults with severe acute asthma received IV magnesium, nebulized magnesium, and standard therapy. The results showed some ‘weak evidence’ that IV magnesium sulfate could reduce the number of hospitalizations due to asthma attacks (15).

9. Can prevent preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a life-threatening condition that develops in 5 to 8% pregnancies. It is characterized by high blood pressure. According to a British-led study, when pregnant women with preeclampsia were treated with magnesium sulfate; it cut their risk by 15 %.

Magnesium sulfate has vasodilator properties that help widen blood vessels and improve blood flow. Magnesium sulfate prevents the progression of eclampsia, which is the onset of seizures in women with preeclampsia (16).

10. Improves skin

Epsom salt has natural exfoliant and anti-inflammatory properties. It can soften rough and dry skin and soothe skin that is affected by skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Dissolve two cups of Epsom salt in two cups of warm water and soak a washcloth in it. Put this washcloth over your face. Avoid your eyes.

Epsom salt can cause an allergic reaction and make skin conditions worse in some cases, so always check with a doctor before using this home remedy.

11. Adds volume to hair

Excessive oil in the hair can make it flat and weighed down. Epsom oil can help decrease excess oil in hair and volumize it. Just mix equal parts of conditioner and Epsom salt and use it on your hair after you shampoo it. Leave this mixture in your hair for around 10 minutes and then rinse it.

12. Natural remedy for heel spurs

Heel spurs are calcium deposits on the bottom of the heel bone and lead to a protrusion. These spurs can be extremely painful. A warm Epson salt bath can soften your heels, reduce inflammation, and relieve heel spur pain. It is regarded as one of the most effective home remedies for heel spurs.

Side effects of Epsom salts

While Epsom salt is generally safe to use, a few side effects can occur if you do not use it properly. When taken orally, magnesium sulfate has a laxative effect. It may cause diarrhea, bloating, and discomfort in some cases. Drink plenty of water after you take magnesium sulfate to reduce its adverse effects.

When you take magnesium sulfate orally, it becomes difficult for your body to absorb other medications like antibiotics. So avoid taking any other medicines for at least two hours after you take magnesium sulfate.  Epsom salt overdose can lead to extreme fatigue, blurry vision, dizziness, trouble breathing, slow heart rate, and muscle weakness.

Final thoughts

Epsom salt is a chemical compound made up of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen. Epsom salt takes its name from a town called Epsom in Surrey, England, where this salt was first distilled from the water of a bitter saline spring. It helps to improve magnesium levels in the body, lowers constipation, relieves pain, improves blood sugar levels, prevents preeclampsia, and treats asthma. It can also be used to enhance hair volume and treat skin conditions and heel spurs.

Always use Epsom salt with caution and take the correct dosage as overdose can lead to serious side effects. Drink plenty of water after consuming Epsom salt and avoid taking any medication for at least two hours after you consume Epsom salt.