What Is Epsom Salt?
Epsom salt, also known as magnesium sulfate, is a chemical compound made up of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen. It gets its name from the town of Epsom in Surrey, England, where it was originally discovered. Despite its name, Epsom salt is a completely different compound than table salt. It was most likely termed “salt” because of its chemical structure. Its appearance is similar to table salt and is often dissolved in baths. While it has a similar appearance to table salt, its tastes very different. Epsom salt is quite bitter and unpalatable. Some people still consume it by dissolving the salt in water and drinking it. However, due to its taste, you probably don’t want to add it to food.
For hundreds of years, this salt has been used to treat ailments, such as constipation, insomnia, and fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, its effects on these conditions are not well researched. Most of the reported benefits of Epsom salt are attributed to its magnesium, a mineral that a lot of people do not get enough of.
How Does It Work?
When Epsom salt is dissolved in water, it releases magnesium and sulfate ions. The idea is that these particles are absorbed through your skin, providing you with magnesium and sulfates — which are essential in important bodily functions.
Reported Health Benefits and Uses of Epsom Salt
- Provides Magnesium
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, the first being calcium. It is involved in more than 325 biochemical reactions that benefit your heart and nervous system. Many people do not consume enough magnesium. Even if you do, factors such as dietary phytates and oxalates can interfere with how much your body absorbs. While magnesium sulfate has value as a magnesium supplement, some people claim that magnesium may be better absorbed via Epsom salt baths than when taken by mouth. Proponents of the theory point to an unpublished study in 19 healthy people. The researchers claimed that all but three of the participants showed higher blood magnesium levels after soaking in an Epsom salt bath.
- Promotes Sleep and Stress Reduction
Adequate magnesium levels are essential for sleep and stress management, likely because magnesium helps your brain produce neurotransmitters that induce sleep and reduce stress. Magnesium may also help your body produce melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Low magnesium levels may negatively affect sleep quality and stress.
- Helps with Constipation
Magnesium is often used to treat constipation. It appears to be helpful because it draws water into your colon, which promotes bowel movements. Most often, magnesium is taken by mouth for constipation relief in the form of magnesium citrate or magnesium hydroxide. However, taking Epsom salt is also said to be effective, although it is not well studied
- Exercise Performance and Recovery
Some people claim that taking Epsom salt baths can reduce muscle soreness and relieve cramps — both important factors for exercise performance and recovery. It is well known that adequate magnesium levels are helpful for exercise because magnesium helps your body use glucose and lactic acid. While magnesium is clearly important for exercise, the use of bath salt to enhance fitness is not well researched. At this point, the supposed benefits are purely anecdotal.
- Reduced Pain and Swelling
Another common claim is that Epsom salt helps reduce pain and swelling. Many people report that taking Epsom salt baths improves symptoms of fibromyalgia and arthritis. Again, the magnesium is deemed responsible for these effects, since many people with fibromyalgia and arthritis are deficient in this mineral. One study in 15 women with fibromyalgia concluded that applying magnesium chloride to the skin may be beneficial for reducing symptoms.
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