I take Epsom-salt baths frequently and I believe they're more effective than a hot bath without them. However, that's not something I can prove or quantitatively measure.
You can find claims online that Epsom salts ease all types of pain and speed healing, that it's more effective to use topical magnesium sulfate (the main components of Epsom salts) than to ingest it, and much more. If you start digging into it, though, there's not much science behind these claims. In fact, Epsom salts and other forms of topical magnesium sulfate have barely been researched at all.
What Do We Know?
We know that ingested magnesium is important for your body's energy production (in the form of ATP); that it helps cells form and maintains muscles, bones and nerves; some studies show it helps boost energy and reduce the specific types of pain and tenderness of fibromyalgia (some of which are shared by chronic fatigue syndrome.)
On the flip side, magnesium can also be really hard on the digestive system. It can cause nausea, persistent diarrhea, bloating and cramping, and many of us can't tolerate it as a supplement.
Lots of Questions
When you make the jump from ingested to topical use, several questions arise:
- Is it absorbed through the skin, and if so, does enough get through to make a difference?
- Does it have the same benefits as ingested magnesium?
- Does it have the same side effects as ingested magnesium?
We do have a limited amount of evidence about #1. Most things are not absorbed through the skin, which is waterproof (meaning any claims of "osmosis" are false -- osmosis always involves movement of water.) However, a small (unpublished) 2006 study by Rosemary Waring did show that 12-minute Epsom salt baths did raise the blood and urine levels of both magnesium and sulfate by a small amount. It's not the bathwater that's getting in, but the particles dissolved in it.
Is it enough to make a difference? That depends on a lot of factors, and right now we just can't answer that question definitively. Because it does get into the blood stream, there's no reason to believe it works differently from ingested magnesium. Does bypassing the digestive system mean we bypass the side effects? This is another unknown.
While doing research on this topic, I came across a very well argued case against widespread claims about Epsom salts. I understand the points it makes, but I doesn't make me question the fact that I feel better after using them. It's interesting to compare the article to the Epsom Salt Council's claims.
Those of us with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome know all too well that science still has a lot to learn. Some of my most effective treatments are unproven, even univestigated, by researchers, while some of the well-researched treatments I've tried have been utter failures, setting me back instead of making me better. Still, when unproven claims abound, it pays to be skeptical.
Because Epsom salts have been popular for a long time, we know they're not dangerous. However, if you expect miracles based on unfounded claims, you're likely to be disappointed. If Epsom salt baths work for you, great! Just don't expect dramatic improvements or a cure, and keep an eye out for intestinal problems.
Do you use Epsom salts? What do you think the effects are? What claims have you seen about them, and how do your results compare? Leave your comments below!
Learn more or join the conversation!
- Fibromyalgia Pain Relief
- The Monster List of Fibromyalgia Symptoms
- The Monster List of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms
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