If you’ve seen me as a patient, I’ve probably recommended an Epsom salt bath.
They’re one of my favorite treatments because they provide a lot of benefit for just a little of your time and and even smaller portion of your money.
Epsom salts are cheap, readily available, and important medicine for most people.
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 a legitimate hair volumizer – who knew?
Epsom salts are the crystalline form of magnesium sulfate.
No sodium or chloride to be found in these little beauties, so they really aren’t salt at all!
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 for your health.
Magnesium is a crucial mineral for cellular and overall bodily functioning.
It’s 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.
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? WOW. So cool. It’s not just me who’s excited about them!
Back to the RDA.
Most people think the RDA represents the maximum amount one should ingest daily, or at the very least that it is a healthy dose.
The RDA represents the ABSOLUTE MINIMUM one must consume to maintain nutritional competency.
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 68% of American adults getting enough magnesium?
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.
In a perfect world, diet would be enough.
However, in the modern world, we’re constantly under chronic stress which can lead to poor digestion and absorption.
Inflammatory and highly processed foods can also lead to poor digestion and absorption.
On the other end of the epsom salt duo of minerals we’ve got sulfate.
Sulfate is found in delicious cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and brussel sprouts.
It supports the liver’s detoxification and restorative functions, helps to form antioxidants, and acts as a building block for cartilage, the brain, and mucus proteins.
Why did I mention mucus proteins??
Because mucus is super crazy important!
You need mucus all the time covering your MUCUS membranes – it’s in the name! — like the GI tract, throat, nose, sinuses, and urinary tract.
A thin layer of mucus is your first line of defense against viruses, bacteria and rogue sharp pieces of potato chips that you swallow.
The mucus traps this debris and keeps it from irritating or invading your cells below it.
Both components of epsom salts 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.
Soaking in a bath bypasses the gut, allowing the minerals to absorb directly through the skin and into circulation.
This is especially great news for those with malabsorption issues or who are sensitive to a magnesium supplement.
Another helpful aspect to taking an epsom salt bath is that the salts get directly to the tissues that need them the most, like if you have sore or tight muscles in your neck or back.
The warm or hot water of the bath improves circulation throughout your whole body and stimulates your immune system, helping your body with proper metabolism and repair.
And finally, taking a bath helps you to slow down and chill out. Magnesium is soothing medicine for our nervous systems, helping them to relax.
The act of taking a bath gives us space to unwind and let our nervous system soak up the restoring qualities of the salts.
And if you’ve got specific health concerns, chances are an epsom salt bath can help!
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
- 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 gut 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 and reduces post-treatment reactions by encouraging the body to continue processing the treatment.
How do I take an Epsom salt bath?
Fill your tub with warm to hot water.
You want the temperature to be comfortable to soak and sweat lightly.
Add at least 4 cups of epsom salts, or about 1/2 of one of the 1/2 gallon paper containers you can get at a drug store.
Stir in salts and soak for 20-25 minutes.
You can add 2-3 drops of an essential oil to help you relax if you’d like.
I love recommending salt baths in the evening because they really help us to unwind and sleep more deeply.
Clinically I’ve seen epsom salt baths help my patients fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
It’s safe to do an epsom salt bath several times a week if you’d like.
I encourage my patients to try for once or twice a week and observe how they feel, how they sleep, if they feel less stressed, and to monitor their health conditions.
BONUS: if you are acutely ill with a fever, you can crank up the temperature and reduce the time you’re in the bath. Heat is exhausting, so we want to cap a hot bath at 8-12 minutes, typically.
The heat gets your core temperature up which helps to kill off the virus or bacteria.
The baths can also reduce body aches and pains associated with fever.
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.
Saltworks is my absolute favorite site for anything salt related.
They offer high quality, pure salts at reasonable prices. 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/