Epsom salt baths have become my latest indulgence. When I want a quiet, relaxing moment, I pour an Epsom salt bath, lock the bathroom door so my kids don’t barge in, turn down the lights, start my MP3 player on my favorite music, and … soak.
Yet Epsom salt baths don’t just calm noisy souls, they improve health as well!
That’s because Epsom salt isn’t salt at all, but really magnesium-sulfate. It’s merely called “Epsom” because magnesium-sulfate was discovered in Epsom, England. The Journal of the American College of Nutrition says that at least 68% of us are magnesium deficient (most likely more), leading to a host of health problems. Thankfully, Epsom salt baths can be one more tool to help us combat that deficiency and improve our health.
Why are we magnesium deficient?
Industrial agriculture depletes soil of nutrients. Rather than fertilizing with rich, vibrant compost, we treat the soil with synthetic fertilizers. In the The Fatal Harvest Reader: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture, Jason McKenney writes about the effect synthetic fertilizers have on the soil:
We now know that massive use of synthetic fertilizers to create artificial fertility has had a cascade of adverse effects on natural soil fertility and the entire soil system. Fertilizer application begins the destruction of soil biodiversity by diminishing the role of nitrogen fixing bacteria and amplifying the role of everything that feeds on nitrogen. These feeders then speed up the decomposition of organic matter and humus. As organic matter decreases, the physical structure of soil changes. With less pore space and less of their sponge-like qualities, soils are less efficient at storing water and air. More irrigation is needed. Water leeches through soils, draining away nutrients that no longer have an effective susbstrate on which to cling. With less available oxygen, the growth of soil microbiology slows, and the intricate ecosystem of biological exchanges breaks down.
Magnesium is among the myriad of minerals lost to industrial agriculture practices. If the nutrients aren’t in the soil, they aren’t in our food.
Municipal water supplies.
In 2007, Life Extension Magazine ran a report on magnesium deficiency. In it, they pegged city water supplies as one of the main culprits:
Our human ancestors evolved in a world in which healthy drinking water came directly from streams, rivers, and lakes, rich in mineral content. The human body became reliant on obtaining a considerable proportion of its daily mineral needs from natural water sources.
Fast-forward to the twenty-first century. We obtain drinking water from a spigot or a plastic bottle. Pesticides and other chemicals seeping into the water supply have made everyone suspicious of water quality. As a result, municipal water-purification facilities have intensified their efforts to remove contaminants like lead, pesticide residues, and nitrates from drinking water. Unfortunately, these modern water-treatment methods also deplete drinking water of desirable minerals like calcium and magnesium.
Too much calcium.
We need calcium to absorb magnesium. Yet’ it’s a delicate balance because the two minerals compete for resources within our body. If you eat too much calcium, you actually hinder your absorption of magnesium.
Studies indicate that taking a calcium supplement without enough magnesium can increase the shortage of both nutrients. Researchers have found that many Americans have five times as much calcium as magnesium in their bodies, although the proper ratio for optimum absorption of both minerals is two to one.
For more on magnesium deficiency, read Magnesium Deficiency: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments.
How do Epsom salt baths improve health?
According to the Epsom Salt Industry Council, correcting magnesium deficiency leads to:
- Improved heart and circulatory health, reducing irregular heartbeats, preventing hardening of the arteries, reducing blood clots and lowering blood pressure.
- Improved ability to fight immune system illnesses, allowing for faster treatments.
- Improved ability for the body to use insulin, reducing the incidence or severity of diabetes.
- Flushed toxins and heavy metals from the cells, easing muscle pain and helping the body to eliminate harmful substances.
- Improved nerve function by electrolyte regulation. Also, calcium is the main conductor for electrical current in the body, and magnesium is necessary to maintain proper calcium levels in the blood.
- Relieved stress. Excess adrenaline and stress are believed to drain magnesium, a natural stress reliever, from the body. Magnesium is necessary for the body to bind adequate amounts of serotonin, a mood-elevating chemical within the brain that creates a feeling of well being and relaxation.
- Reduced inflammation to relieve pain and muscle cramps.
- Improved oxygen use.
- Improved absorption of nutrients.
- Prevention or easing of migraine headaches.
Furthermore, the sulfate in Epsom salts:
- Improves absorption of nutrients by starting the cascade of digestive enzymes released from the pancreas.
- Helps form the mucin proteins which line the gut walls. Mucin stops the intestine’s content from ‘sticking’ and blocks the transport of toxins from the gut to the bloodstream. Patients who have a leaky gut (like those with IBS) have low blood plasma sulfate levels.
- Helps with the formation of brain tissue. Pregnant ladies, pay attention! When en utero, neurons are created on chains of sulfated carbohydrate. Reduces sulfation may lead to fault neural connections and dysfunction later in life!
- Plays a key role in detoxifying drugs and environmental contaminants from your body.
To top it all off, both magnesium and sulfate are more easily absorbed transdermally through the skin than they are internally!
How to take an Epsom Salt bath.
If you want truly therapeutic levels of magnesium, this study found consistent, significant improvement in magnesium levels after participants soaked for at least 15 minutes in a 1% solution of Epsom salts. For a typical bath tub, that’d be about a pound of Epsom salt per bath! Participants complained that the 1% solution was too “soapy” feeling.
Since my goal is comfort as well as therapy, I opt for less Epsom salts and a longer soak.
To make an Epsom salt bath:
Dissolve 2 cups of Epsom salts in a bathtub full of warm or hot water. Soak for at least 20 minutes before you attend to any personal hygiene like washing your hair or shaving.
Take this soothing Epsom salt bath about 3 times per week.
To make an Epsom salt foot soak:
When I was younger, I never understood why all the mothers in my life soaked their feet in an Epsom salt foot bath.
What made the Epsom salts any better than plain hot water?
Turns out, an Epsom salt foot bath is great for reducing foot aches and pains because of its documented anti-inflammatory properties.
To make a foot soak, dissolve 1/2 cup of Epsom salt in a large bowl or small tub of warm or hot water. If you want a relaxing fragrance for your foot bath, add a few drops of lavender essential oil to the water. Soak your sore feet for at least 15 minutes and watch your aches melt away!
Where to buy Epsom salt.
Epsom salt is ridiculously cheap. You can often find it in your grocery store or drug store, but I’ve found that those tend to be more expensive, hopped-up Epsom salts with questionable perfumes or other ingredients. They typically sell a pound of these juiced-up salts for about $3-7.
But online, I can get 20 lbs. fo Epsoak Epsom Salt for $1.50/lb. including shipping! How cheap is that??