Dr Michael Daignault
“Add two scoops of Epsom salt to a warm bath. Soak for 20 minutes then rinse with cold shower. Repeat nightly as needed.”
I often recommend Epsom salt to patients I see in the ER for a variety of reasons including low back pain, muscle strains, aches and pains from their job, or as a way to reduce stress at the end of the day. It’s inexpensive, available over-the-counter and doesn’t interact with medications people take for other chronic medical problems.
The therapeutic benefit of soaking in Epsom salt does not require metabolization or detoxification by our liver or kidney the way pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen do. And unlike more potent narcotic medications, Epsom salt is not habit-forming or addicting. It’s a great option for almost everyone.
However, diabetics should exercise caution with Epsom salt baths. Diabetes can increase the risk for nerve damage, poor circulation and open wounds – making it difficult to gauge the temperature of the bath and result in burns. Those with low blood pressure should also exercise caution as warm baths can lower blood pressure even further.
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Where does Epson salt come from?
Epsom salt is actually magnesium sulfate, a water-soluble salt that gets its name from a saline spring in Epsom, England. It was discovered accidentally centuries ago, found to be produced naturally in springs from the combination of the porous chalk of the North Downs and London clay.
Why use Epsom salt?
Anyone who’s ever soaked in an Epsom salt bath can attest to both relaxed muscles and calmed nerves. It’s right up there in the pantheon of home remedies handed down from generation to generation. Soaking in an Epsom salt bath has long been touted for muscle relaxation and pain relief throughout the body. In addition, it has been used to relieve stress and anxiety.
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But surprisingly, the scientific evidence for these claims is lacking. As of now, there just aren’t any studies that assess the efficacy of Epson salt baths for any of these ailments. why? This could be for a variety of reasons. Epsom salt is a cheap, accessible remedy that carries little risk – and there’s no money in it. Researchers likely just aren’t interested in studying it.
Still, we know that people deficient in magnesium can experience painful muscle cramps and chronic inflammation. Scientists have postulated there is sufficient evidence that inadequate dietary magnesium is a potential cause of treatment-resistant depression. Some researchers have gone so far as to suggest that taking oral magnesium increases serotonin – a key neurochemical responsible for happiness and relaxation. And studies attest to intravenous treatment with magnesium sulfate for a variety of emergencies we see in the ER, including acute asthma exacerbation, pre-eclampsia and eclampsia and a dangerous irregular heart rhythm.
How does Epsom salt work?
We don’t really understand or know how Epsom salt works. Multiple hypotheses on the subject have been refuted. The main theory holds that easing of aches and pains is due to absorption of the magnesium that is released when Epsom salt is dissolved in water. But the science linking low magnesium levels to pain is sketchy. And even if we could absorb magnesium from bathing in it, a much more effective and easy way to up your magnesium levels is to get it through foods.
This might be a case where we have to trust 400 years of anecdotes to see that a simple inexpensive at-home intervention can improve our wellness and provides the therapeutic effect.
Perhaps it is the simple act of decompressing at night and having a wind-down regimen; of putting electronics away, lighting a couple of candles and relaxing our minds without distraction.
Interestingly, the addition of the salt prevents the wrinkling of the skin that occurs after prolonged baths. And the skin definitely feels more silky and smooth after an Epsom salt bath.
epsom salt is worth a try
The bottom line is that a large bag of Epsom salt should be a staple in your home medicine cabinet.
Epsom salt baths are a safe option for most people and provide a benefit without any adverse effects. Rarely, some people may find that the Epsom salt irritates their skin.
Do a trial run with a small amount of Epsom salt first or place some salt on your skin to see if there’s a reaction. And always have some water on hand to rehydrate during or after your bath.
Do you suffer from lower back pain? It may be time to think outside the medicine cabinet.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism