This morning I was asked a question. I was asked, from a personal trainer stand point, what are the benefits of Epsom salt baths and what may be the potential dangers. I had to honestly answer back that I only knew what I had heard over the years. What I knew to be true was nothing more than the wives tales that they work. They work to relive achy muscles, stress and tension in the body. With that information alone a Personal Trainer could conclude that there is nothing wrong with an Epsom Salt bath right? So began the need to know more.
Lets start by defining what Epsom salt is. In scientific terms epsom salt is Hydrated Magnesium Sulfate. You may also see it written as Magnesium Sulphate Heptahydrate. Sulphate in American terms is Sulfate and is how I will refer to it throughout this article. You can verify this information http://saveyourself.ca/articles/reality-checks/epsom-salts.php here in this article or also here http://www.care2.com/greenliving/health-benefits-of-epsom-salt-baths.html?page=2. Both of these articles provided useful information for me to form my own hypothesis. Additionally before I continue I want to contend that I am not a doctor, scientist or anything like that. I have a BS from Arizona State University in Exercise Science and I am becoming a skeptic of many things. Coming from a background of believing everything I heard I now question much.
Magnesium – Not limited to but helps in the regulation of enzymes. Specifically it helps transmit nerve impulses, body temperature regulation, detoxification, energy production and muscle control.
Sulfate – not limited to but aid in brain tissue formation, formation of joint proteins and proteins that line the digestive track. This aids in the stimulation of the pancreas to form digestive enzymes to help detoxify the body.
Ok so we now know the following. Magnesium and sulfate are important minerals in helping the body to perform functions that aid the body in recovery, detoxification, regulation and energy production. This is awesome information so then why do epsom salt baths work or not work. Well the argument is that magnesium and sulfate are both fairly difficult to ingest orally and make it to the bloodstream. In addition to that Calcium plays an important role in the utilization of Magnesium. Calcium in abundance can deplete magnesium yet Calcium functions best when enough magnesium is present so we must be delicate. Now we know why all the supplement stores have calmag supps. Yet if you are eating foods rich in calcium and taking cal-mag supps you may be defeating the purpose. Ok little tangent there. I read in one article that both magnesium and sulfate are easily absorbed through the skin but this article is a biased article that supports epsom sa;lt soaks and sells epsom salt rocks. In another article referenced above the author goes into scientific detail that both magnesium and sulfate would not be easily absorbed by our skin. Ill leave that to you to sort out on your own. They both make decent points in this matter.
Side stepping for a moment lets take a look at the negative effects that could be caused by epsom salt baths. As a trainer the one that sticks out to me is dehydration. This article names a few other side effects such as sulfur allergies and diarrhea. Magnesium leads to loose stool and is why many of the magnesium supplements (a supp I do recommend) say to take at night. The side effects of the bath itself are not so crazy that I would tell one to avoid them.
So the real question at hand: DO THEY WORK? One of the articles make some very scientific contentions as to holes in the logic of detox, mineral absorption, and the result from this absorption. He goes on and on showing that there is little evidence backing claims and even the evidence that does lacks conclusive data. After reading them all and not being an expert on the situation I come to this conclusion and hypothesis.
Is it possible that the general prescription of 3 12-15 minute baths with Epsom salt a week lead individuals to for the first time in weeks stop and relax. This stressless environment, like a massage, then leads to a reduction of cortisol levels. The reduction of cortisol levels then leads to a good nights rest where natural growth hormone is secreted. This natural growth hormone aids in the repair of broken down muscles and speeds recovery. Maybe just maybe its not the actual epsom salt but the relaxation in a crazy busy world that does the healing. After all meditation, prayer and other forms of therapy seem to have conclusive evidence to increased quality of life.
We can conclude that magnesium is good for the body. We can conclude that magnesium is not present in much of the food that we eat and supplementation in some form is a must. We can also conclude that sulfate is good for body function. Concluding that epsom salt, the combination of magnesium and sulfate, would then be good for the body. We can also conclude that this has been a home remedy for years. Even while I was standing in line talking to a man at Peets and mentioned this article the man I was speaking to said that his mom has sworn by it. He was much older than I. There is no proof that it does not work accept for scientifically breaking down components that could lead to postulating that it does not. The arguments make sense and I believe that the source is credible. Another source breaks down the potential side effects.
My conclusion would be this. They will not hurt. If you like to take epsom salt baths then take them but remember to stay hydrated and if you end up with diarrhea dont be surprised. If you have sulfur allergies then avoid. I honestly think that the 45 minutes of relax time is really the answer behind the home remedy and there is no need for the salt but it does not cost much. Additionally if you believe in floatation therapy the salt will help with that. In the end there are several homeopathic remedies to feeling better and regulating body function. The ones that seem to have the most scientific research and data that is conclusive always tend to be SLEEP, WHOLE FOOD CONSUMPTION, EXERCISE, and STRESS MANAGEMENT. Then again I may only see those because they support my well being as a Personal Trainer:)))))) Until Next Time.
Sources : Above referenced articles and personal hypothesis.