If you’ve seen me as a patient, I’ve probably recommended an Epsom salt bath. You’ve also most likely heard my impassioned spiel on the wonders of salt. Specifically high mineral salt. I speak about it with such rapture (and rightfully so), that my patients must question whether I think this stuff is magical fairy dust deposited on earth by a benevolent super power which I see in the form of fluffy cats (I also talk about my fluffy cats occasionally). As a matter of fact, salt pretty much is the magical fairy dust of health. No, really. I have a special place for it in my heart, just like other demonized substances like red meat and butter. So sadly misunderstood!
In reality, Epsom salts are the crystalline form of magnesium sulfate. No sodium or chloride to be found in these little beauties, so in reality, they are not salt at all! Named for the spring in which they were discovered in Surrey, England, they have numerous benefits not just limited to health (for instance, they are a fabulous soil enrichment for the garden and great for volumizing your hair – who knew?). So let’s start breaking down why these innocuous rocks that you’ve walked by in the grocery or drug store a thousand times are so fantastic.
Magnesium is a crucial mineral for cellular and overall bodily functioning, and the majority of adults (about 68% according to the Epsom Salt Council) are not getting the RDA, or recommended daily allowance. Can we pause for a second an acknowledge the awesome fact that there is and entire COUNCIL devoted to Epsom salts? They’re so amazing these people have dedicated significant time to educated and informing the public about the fabulousness of these pseudo-salts. It’s not just me who’s excited about them. I digress.
Back to the RDA. The RDA represents the absolute minimum one must consume to maintain nutritional competency. I think most people confuse it with a maximum amount one should ingest, or at the very least that it is a representation of a healthy dose. Oh, contraire. With at least 68% of adults not meeting the bare minimum magnesium requirements, we should be taking it by the spoonful, right? You can certainly take oral magnesium supplements, and I do recommend this for some of my patients, however, too much magnesium will cause loose stools, so be careful with that dosage!
Why aren’t we meeting this requirement? The majority of people are eating a highly processed and refined diet. When foods are processed, minerals and nutrients are stripped from them. The easiest way to increase your magnesium level is reduce or eliminate processed foods and focus on whole, organic (higher mineral and nutrient levels), fresh foods. Check out my previous posts on organic foods here and here if you’d like to know more about affordably incorporating them into your diet. In a perfect world, diet would be enough to rectify the deficiency our lifestyle has created. However, in the modern world, we’re constantly under chronic stress which can lead to poor digestion and absorption (this can also result from underlying GI problems like food allergies, etc.) Magnesium is a necessary ingredient in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, and deficiency can lead to issues like high blood pressure, blood sugar dysregulation, asthma, muscle pain and cramping, constipation, difficulty sleeping, and more.
Sulfate, found in delicious cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and brussel sprouts, is a wondrous compound for supporting the liver in its many detoxification and restorative functions, forming antioxidants, acting as a building block for cartilage, brain, and mucus proteins (yes, the mucus is super important; you need mucus all the time covering your MUCUS membranes – it’s in the name! — like the GI tract, throat, nose, sinuses, urinary tract, otherwise they’ll be unprotected from viruses and bacteria and rogue sharp pieces of potato chips that you swallow).
So, both components are incredibly necessary for optimal body function. Improving your diet will help decrease deficiencies, but usually slowly. To rapidly replete these substances, Epsom salt baths are the way to go! Supplementation can also help, but as mentioned above, sometimes digestion is compromised. This is why I love the bath aspect of Epsom salt baths! The magnesium and sulfate will absorb directly through the skin and into circulation. This route bypasses the GI and is particularly helpful for those with malabsorption issues or who are sensitive to a magnesium supplement. Bonus #2 is that the salts get directly to the tissue that needs them the most (sore legs, a rash on your arm). Voila! Bonus #3 is the warm or hot water of the bath improves circulation throughout your whole body and stimulates your immune system, which are both necessary for proper metabolism and repair.
Here’s a list of some of the conditions Epsom salt baths treat:
Muscle soreness and cramps
- Magnesium is a crucial mineral in relaxing the muscles and decreasing inflammation. The warm to hot water of the bath increases circulation, so you’re getting more nutrients in and more waste products out.
- See above, and magnesium decreases spasm, which is often a large part of cramps before a period. I wouldn’t recommend a bath while you are having a period, but a few baths right beforehand and throughout the month can work wonders.
Headaches, including migraines
- See above. Migraines also tend to involve spasmodic pain. There are many studies linking low magnesium levels (among other nutrients) to migraines.
High blood pressure
- Again with the spasm component. If blood vessels are constricted due to chronic stress, coffee, or a multitude of other issues, magnesium will help the blood vessels to relax. This does not include the physical blocks in the vessels, such as plaques, however there is some evidence that Epsom salts can help prevent hardening of the arteries and other cardiovascular issues.
- Epsom salts can help with the constriction and spasm that happen in the bronchioles (magnesium is commonly deficient in asthma patients). The sulfate can help form the most potent antioxidant in the body, glutathione, which is extremely helpful to the lungs.
Edema or swelling
- Epsom salt baths are great for any kind of injury or swelling. They improve circulation and draw excess fluid out of the body.
Skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, infections, scrapes, bruises, bites, stings
- The salts are healing and soothing to the skin. Since they are not actually salt, they do not sting on open wounds and can be a great disinfectant.
Blood sugar imbalance
- Magnesium is often low in those with blood sugar regulation issues.
- Epsom salts are relaxing to the muscles and nervous system. Magnesium reduces the effects of adrenaline, which allows the nervous system to switch from sympathetic (I’m running from a bear, fight or flight) to parasympathetic (rest and digest). Many people are chronically stuck in sympathetic mode and have trouble switching it off before bed.
- Magnesium increases energy and stamina by encouraging the production of the main energy currency of the body, ATP.
- Magnesium helps produce serotonin, a mood-elevating chemical that creates feelings of happiness and relaxation. Magnesium also helps lower irritability by reducing adrenaline.
- A hot Epsom salt bath can increase your body’s temperature set point enough that the bacteria or virus can no longer live. The heat and nutrients will also stimulate the immune system.
- Magnesium relaxes the GI and helps the bowels move.
- Epsom salts stimulate detoxification pathways in the liver. They are a gentle way to tonify and clear your system. If you make the bath hot enough and sweat, detoxification increases. Check out my simple and easy and safe ideas on detox here and here.
Acupuncture or holistic treatment recovery
- I always recommend Epsom salt baths after treatment. In my other post about post-treatment reactions to acupuncture, I mention that it can take the body 48 hours to integrate the shift created by the treatment. I have found that taking an Epsom salt bath typically decreases this integration time; it encourages the body to continue processing. An Epsom salt bath can reduce post-treatment reactions.
To be the ultimate magic fairy dust, I add dead sea salts to the bath as well. So, now you’ve got a taste of why I recommend these amazing baths to all of my patients! They are wonderful for health maintenance, as well as acute conditions.
For a full range of conditions treated and more information, check out this article: http://www.saltworks.us/salt_info/epsom-uses-benefits.asp
Saltworks is my absolute favorite site for anything salt related. They offer high quality, pure salts at reasonable prices with free shipping. I am not affiliated with them, I just love their stuff and I highly recommend you check them out!
Also, don’t forget about the fabulous Epsom Salt Council, that covers the helpful properties of Epsom salts outside health: http://www.epsomsaltcouncil.org/