Are showers costing us our health? Probably not, but I do think Epsom salt baths deserve an in-depth scientific look. After all, tradition supports bathing with most ancient civilizations highly valuing baths especially those with therapeutic added salts, minerals and oils.
Epsom salt was discovered in 1618 in England in a town fittingly named Epsom. There’s countless websites and medical practitioners who swear by the healing power of Epsom salt baths. But in today’s age of misinformation should we buy this treatment idea?
There are 2 widespread rumors about the benefits of Epsom salt baths:
- Epsom salt baths are an effective way to increase magnesium levels in the body
- Epsom salt baths help our body detoxify more effectively
We’ve been recommending Epsom salt baths to help with die-off symptoms since 2009. And at this year’s Weston A Price Foundation conference, I heard two very well-known speakers recommend Epsom salt baths.
Dr. Campbell McBride, the creator of the Gut And Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) protocol for brain and digestive issues, was adamant that one should use nightly baths and some with Epsom salts to help detoxify.
So, let’s take an in-depth look at Epsom salt baths and see if there is any scientific basis for our recommendations.
What is So Special About Epsom Salt?
It’s important to grasp a few things about the chemical compound “Magnesium Sulfate” (Epsom salt). From the name, you can see the two biggest parts are Magnesium and Sulfur (there’s an oxygen atom mixed in too).
It has many uses other than potential therapeutic baths. It’s used in farming, manufacturing and brewing beer. Fun fact of the day: it’s also used to coagulate tofu. (1) GROSS! Seriously, don’t eat that stuff. So, let’s dive into the medical side of Epsom salt usage. Epsom salt is basically made of Magnesium and Sulfur, so let’s hear a few arguments for Magnesium:
According to Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of the Magnesium Miracle, “Of the 325 magnesium-dependent enzymes the most important enzyme reaction involves the creation of energy by activating adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the fundamental energy storage molecule of the body.”
And Dr. Steven Johnson agrees adding, “The range of pathologies associated with Mg deficiency is staggering: hypertension (cardiovascular disease, kidney and liver damage, etc.), peroxynitrite damage (migraine, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.), recurrent bacterial infection due to low levels of nitric oxide in the cavities (sinuses, vagina, middle ear, lungs, throat, etc.), fungal infections due to a depressed immune system, thiamine deactivation (low gastric acid, behavioral disorders, etc.), premenstrual syndrome, Ca deficiency (osteoporosis, mood swings, etc.), tooth cavities, hearing loss, diabetes type II, cramps, muscle weakness, impotence, aggression, fibromas, K deficiency (arrhythmia, hypertension, some forms of cancer), Fe accumulation, etc.” (2)
And “Virtually all the components of the Metabolic Syndrome of diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and lipid disorders are associated with low magnesium.” Dr. Michael R. Eades M.D.
The point I’m trying to drive home is that Magnesium is very important for our health. And it’s likely that you’re not getting enough of it in your diet. A study sponsored by the National Institute of Health, found 68% of Americans aren’t eating the RDA for Magnesium. (3) I won’t even comment on whether the RDA is an optimal level to shoot for. Not to mention, if your digestion is sub-optimal then there’s no guarantee the magnesium you’re ingesting is actually being absorbed into your body. I’d say the odds are stacked against the idea that we are all getting the optimal level of magnesium.
Do Epsom Salt Baths Help Us Detox?
At the surface, it didn’t make much sense to me how these baths would help detox. Then, I started learning about Sulfur. Sulfur is the 8th most common element in the human body by mass. (4) It’s used in every area of the body in one way or another. Here’s a brief overview:
- Sulfate is needed for proper pancreatic enzyme action
- Sulfate is essential at forming the mucin proteins that line the gut walls
- Sulfur containing compounds are a very important part of Phase 2 detox in the liver
- Sulfate is necessary for the formation of brain tissue and proper neurotransmitter function
- Sulfate is needed for proper joint lubrication and function
This isn’t going to be an in-depth talk on Sulfur, but I just want to highlight some point’s readers of this blog probably care deeply about. Bad digestion, detox, bad brain status and hurting joints are all things many of us struggle with. And it turns out Sulfur plays a major role in all of these.
Interesting to note: there are 3 ways to get more sulfates into your body. Eating it, absorbing it through the skin, or creating it from methionine and cysteine. The problem is: the ability to absorb it from eating sulfur containing foods is very inefficient. (5) And if you have IBD or any gut dysbiosis, it’s likely even worse. (6)
Scientific Proof that Epsom Salt Raises Magnesium and Sulfur Levels
As I started to write this, I wanted scientific proof on Epsom salt baths to share with you. I scoured the web for tangible proof that Epsom salt does as described: that it raises Magnesium and Sulfate levels in the body. This appears to be unpublished study that does in fact, actually test whether or not serum levels of magnesium and sulfate rise after bathing in Epsom salts. Here’s what happened:
The researchers took 19 subjects (10M, 9F) in good health and tested both blood and urine magnesium and sulfate levels to get a baseline. Then, they had the volunteers take 12 minute baths between 50-55 degrees Celsius. They did this at the same time each day for 7 days. They tested their blood and urine markers 2hrs after the 1st bath and the 7th bath. Then, they tested their markers 24hs after the 7th bath.
Here’s their Magnesium conclusion: Magnesium levels in blood are very tightly controlled. Of 19 subjects, all except 3 showed a rise in magnesium concentrations in plasma, though this was small in some cases.
Here’s their Sulfate conclusion: Free inorganic sulfate levels in plasma rose in all subjects after bathing in Epsom salts.
If you want to break down the study and look at the specific numbers, you’ll find a few issues to chew on. In my opinion, the only conclusion we can really draw is that Magnesium and Sulfate from Epsom salt baths are absorbed by the body. While this isn’t the definitive proof I had hoped to find, it’s the only thing out there as I’m not aware of any other study that tested the concept and had negative results. So, as Chris Kresser L.A.c likes to say, “Lack of proof is not proof against.”
If you find any relevant research on Epsom salt, please share it in the comments section.
My Personal Experience with Epsom Salt Baths
All that is old is new again. Eat happy, healthy meat? Play daily? Butter is good? Go into the sun? The wisdom of those before us is coming around again. I think bathing… especially Epsom salt baths, should be on this list.
The first time I tried one of these was in 2009. I still vividly remember how I felt afterwards… like I was drunk and exhausted all at the same time. It was a wild experience. I was glad to have read this might happen and was prepared to go right to bed. It felt like I almost didn’t make it. I sure slept like a baby that night, though. I took more baths that week, and the week after, and the exhausted feeling decreased each time. But as with many things I got bored and stopped.
It wasn’t until earlier this year that I started playing around with them again. And sure enough, I noticed deeper sleep, my skin was less inflamed, and it was a very effective way to further reduce my stress levels.
My focus for the past few months has been to take 2-3 Epsom salt baths a week. I plan to continue this into the future, based on the research I’ve presented above and how effective they are at allowing me to lower my stress levels.
P.S. – What’s your experience with Epsom salt baths? Please share it with us in the comments below.
(1) – http://www.freepatentsonline.com/6042851.html
(2) – http://www.mpwhi.com/magnesium_for_life.pdf
(3) – http://www.jacn.org/content/24/3/166.abstract
(4) – http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/sulfur_obesity_alzheimers_muscle_wasting.html
(5) – http://physrev.physiology.org/content/81/4/1499.full.pdf
(6) – http://www.epsomsaltcouncil.org/articles/sulfation_benefits.pdf