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Adrienne Dellwo

Epsom Salts for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By August 26, 2010

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Do Epsom-salt baths ease the pains of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome? They're a common home remedy, but do Epsom salts really do anything? And if so, how?

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:

  1. Is it absorbed through the skin, and if so, does enough get through to make a difference?
  2. Does it have the same benefits as ingested magnesium?
  3. 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 However, a small (unpublished) 2006 study by Rosemary Waring did show that 12-minute Epsom salt baths did raise the blood and urine levels of both magnesium and sulfate by a small amount.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!

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Comments
August 26, 2010 at 10:25 am
(1) Carmen says:

I have Fibromyalgia. I do use epsom salts in baths. I always feels better afterward. I don’t know that it is the salts that work or if it is just the soak in the warm water of the fact that I do stretch my muscles while I’m in the warm water. I also use the kind with eucalyptus and lavender oils for relaxation so that may be a psychological affect. The only reason I would see to be cautious is for me taking baths too often can cause kidney infections because I have Chronic Pylonephritis.

August 26, 2010 at 12:33 pm
(2) Heidi says:

I just discovered this works for me!
But I didn’t expect to absorb anything, it says it ” helps releases lactic acid which builds up during physical activity causing muscle ache ”
I just assumed it was externally releasing it out of my muscles. Forgive me if this is ignorant.
It may be as Carmen said just the bath relaxing me.

August 26, 2010 at 4:16 pm
(3) Noel Russouw says:

My girlfriend suffers from Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,
Three questions

1) Is there any cure for this illness.
2) Would a change in her diet help ease the pain.
3)Could this be caused by lack of magnesium being produced by one’s own body.

She suffers more in the winter periods then in summer.

Many thanks
Noel

Guide Response: I’m so sorry to hear about your girlfriend! Unfortunately, so far we don’t have a cure for either disease as researchers have been unable to pinpoint the exact causes and mechanisms involved. However, they are getting closer. It’s possible that a dietary change could help — it does for some, but not all of us. Many of us do have magnesium problems, and even more are helped by magnesium supplementation. We can’t say whether low magnesium is a cause or effect of the conditions, though. She has a lot of treatment options, and it’s likely that she’ll need to do a lot of experimentation to find the right combination of treatments and management techniques. Here’s a place to start exploring those options: Treatment Overviews for FMS & ME/CFS. Best of luck to both of you! ~Adrienne

August 27, 2010 at 4:50 pm
(4) Anna says:

When I am able to get in and out of the tub, I love taking Epsom salt baths. Many medications are prescribed topically, so I don’t have any problem understanding that the magnesium is absorbed. And since you are bathing in it, a very large surface area is exposed. I do have one problem and that is if I don’t rinse, my skin will itch.

August 27, 2010 at 5:03 pm
(5) Mic says:

Anna brings up a good point. My massage therapist has always advised a cool shower after the warm Epsom salt bath. The few times that I have bypassed the shower, I have experienced the itchy skin, too.

August 27, 2010 at 5:42 pm
(6) lotekky says:

Are Epsom salts safe to use in a Jacuzzi whirlpool bathtub? I know I can’t use bath oils or bubble bath but am not sure about bath salts.

August 27, 2010 at 5:43 pm
(7) andrea says:

I’ve been using the epsom salt baths since I found out that I had Fibro/CFS. They seem to help, loosen the muscles. I guess what I’m saying is Bottom Line~ They make me feel a bit more Relaxed, & less achey for awhile, so I’m not sure how or why…….but the combo of hot water & epsom salts has really been a lifesaver for me at certain times( bad flares ) throughout my FMS/CFS diagnosis so far !

August 27, 2010 at 7:55 pm
(8) Tammie says:

Actually quite a lot can be absorbed through the skin and in more concentrated quantities becasue the digestive system is not involved in breaking things down when they come thru the skin. That is why there are so many meds given via patches.

As far as Epsom salts go, I have read of quite a few people who believe they help and magnesium is definitely important in muscle relaxing and pain relief. However, one caveat is that many people with ME/CFS have problems eliminating sulfur from their bodies and this can cause some big problems with H2S build up (it can be toxic). I am drawing a blank on the name of the Dr who recently published info on this, or I would put that here. Sorry about that (brain fog).

Anyway, in case anyone reading this is one who has problems with sulfur products, I would suggest going real slow the trying out the Epsom salts. If they seem ok, that’s great, but if they don’t listen to your body. We can have some reactions to things that most people don’t.

And Noel, no there is no cure at this point…..just a lot of treating the symptoms; however, the recent retroviral findings may lead to better treatments down the road.

Diet will not cure CFS, but some people find that it can help with pain. However, what works for one person can wind up causing more problems for someone else. It’s a lot of trial and error, and some people find no difference at all with dietary changes.

As to magnesium, many people are low in it and it does definitely make a difference in getting the muscles to relax. Like anything else, though, it is possible to have too much. While that is not common, it may be good for her to get thorough blood work done before starting to supplement with anything…..and if she does decide to try it, magnesium citrate is the most easily absorbed form. Vitamin D is another nutrient that many find they are low in and that can help with pain…..also important to check levels, though.

August 27, 2010 at 10:36 pm
(9) Jo says:

@Noel

In addition to Tammie’s comments (see above), I would mention that cold and dampness do seem to make the pain worse. Warmth from a warm bath or shower, or from hot bags, a hot water bottle, or a heating pad can help some people. Dressing well for the weather is important – cozy clothing next to the skin, with sufficient layers over that. Stretches and gentle exercises and regular moderate walking help some people also. Be careful not to overdo it. Your friend will have to listen to her body. Good luck.

August 27, 2010 at 11:23 pm
(10) Kim Griffiths says:

I have the opposite reaction … I have to take cold showers and that’s it … I can’t use hot or lukewarm water or I feel 10 tiimes worse … everytime I took a hot bath, I ended up in the ER for pain mgmt. I have tried everything and am now using DermaMag … it’s a magnesium spray … you can also do a foot soak … haven’t tried that … but using the spray twice a day really does seem to help my pain level … it even helps when it’s raining and the humidity is high (oooooh everything is soooo much worse then) … hoping Ampligen gets approved and helps us all … some of my probs are thyroid-related (hyper and hypo overlap) … prayers for all of you

August 28, 2010 at 11:42 am
(11) Julie says:

I definitely see a difference when I do an Epsom Salt bath as opposed to not doing it. I think part of it is the relaxation and that helps me sleep better (although it doesn’t always work). When I’m able to relax better in the bath, I sleep better afterwards.

I’m also taking magnesium malate daily and I’m thinking about increasing the dosage of that. It does take a little bit for your body to get used to the added magnesium so that it doesn’t cause digestive problems. It was suggested tome to work up to larger amounts slowly. I started with half the rec daily dosage and then once I was good with that without any stomach upsets I added the second one.

August 28, 2010 at 1:00 pm
(12) sherudi says:

My response is to questions posted by Noel Russouw.
My girlfriend suffers from Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,
Three questions
1) Is there any cure for this illness.
ANSWER: I feel that Adrienne Dellwo will agree with me on these statements…To date, there is no cure for Fibromyalgia (FM). As each person is different, there will be some people that are mildly affected to those who are severely affected and everything in-between. The process is slow but there are many people working for a cure.
2) Would a change in her diet help ease the pain.
ANSWER: A healthy diet is good for anyone and for FM extra protein is very important for muscles affected by this illness. Adrienne has provided wonderful suggestions in regular updates about helpful foods. Stay in touch with this site for more info!
3) Could this be caused by lack of magnesium being produced by one’s own body.
ANSWER: FM is not “caused” by a lack of magnesium in the body. There are many theories and studies about the cause (heredity, viruses, traumatic injury/illness, etc.) so stay alert
as new information updates are published. This site will keep you/her informed of the latest medical finds.

She suffers more in the winter periods then in summer.

COMMENT: Cold weather can cause more pain in some people and warm weather can cause more fatigue and swelling. FM often causes cold/heat intolerance in many people.

I applaud Noel for asking questions and his willingness to learn. Too many people dismiss this illness as complaining about nothing and treat people with FM as “Mentally Unstable”. There are many breakthroughs in research that disprove this illness is psychologically based and (hopefully) some day soon we will have an illness as valid as HIV, Cancer, MS, etc. Stay supportive of your Girlfriend as she will find the world of FM a very lonely place.

August 29, 2010 at 2:34 pm
(13) Trish says:

Please try some oral magnesium approx 200 mg 3-4 time per day. I’ve suffered from asthma, IBS, sinusitus, thyroid deficiency, chronic fatigue, depression, fibromyalsia, and hormonal imbalance, PMDD and RLS. I have spent years and literally tens of thousands of dollars on testing, supplements and prescription drugs. These collective treatments only helped marginally. Then I had the worst weekend of my life. It was horrible vomiting, nausea, rls. I did not sleep or sit still for more that 5-10 mins at a time for 3 days. I was crying and truly broken. I prayed to God for an answer. I heard “magnesium” . I’ve taken some magnesium for quite a while now but not in frequent doses each day. Taking magnesium when your vomiting and have diarrhea is a leap of faith in itself. I started taking it. The rls subsided. I took more about every 2-3 hours and I slept for the first time in days. I thought God gave me the answer to my immediate crisis, but He gave me the answer to all of my ailments. I had to stop my antidepressant after 2 days on the magnesium because I felt like I was on speed. I’m off wellbutrin and lexapro with NO withdrawal. I’m off of 1 of the thyroid medications. My temperature is 98.6. I cannot believe it. I’ve never been normal. I plan to stop the other thyroid medication this week. I can sleep, I wake rested. My sex drive is coming back. My energy level is wonderful. I feel my body coming back to life. My mind is clear and life looks wonderful. My husband can’t believe it. He’s cautiously optimistic. Magnesium is cheap but don’t take too much at any one dosing because it will cause diarrhea and that will not be helpful to you over all. Please look on the internet for magnesium and depression, CFS, FM, RLS. There is a wealth of information but the doctors are not diagnosing magnesium deficiency. It’s chronic and it’s serious and it’s pervasive. One last note it is suggested that you STOP your calcium supplements since it blocks magnesium absorption. God Bless You. God is faithful.

August 31, 2010 at 1:40 pm
(14) Tammie says:

I am really glad for Trish that mag helped so much; however, I would not suggest stopping calcium (if needed, ie: if blood work shows you don’t have enough)

…..you should take calcium and magnesium at different times to avoid the absorption issues, but calcium is very important to the body…..not just for bones either. It also plays a role in the muscles, and it is an electrolyte which is a vital nutrient for the heart and many other bodily functions…….definitely not good to get too low in it…..and magnesium and calcium complement each other. Getting a balance between the two si very important.

September 2, 2010 at 6:49 am
(15) DENISE pringle says:

My daughter has very severe fibro and is on morphine forit. However when she is able to get into an epsom salts bath it always gives her considerable pain relief. No relief just with a bath though and it does leave her very drained. I have been told it id essential to drink at least one glass of water while soaking too.

September 2, 2010 at 8:36 am
(16) Mary says:

I find epsom salt baths to be very helpful. I suffer with severe fibromyalgia and cervical dystonia.

They help me to feel better when I’m in a flareup. They help me to feel less cloudy-headed. I can’t stand the mental fogginess I get and what is really upsetting is when doctors don’t believe me, that the fibrofog is serious and disrupts my life.

God bless us, everyone.

Be good to yourself today. Remind yourself, “I am very brave!”

Positive self-talk is so important.

September 6, 2010 at 12:03 pm
(17) Sherry says:

I don’t know if any of you have heard of the float tanks that are now in use in the US. They are filled with 700 to 800 lbs. of epsom salts and you float in these for an hour. I tried this recently in Dallas. I have had Fibro since 1996 and this was the most relaxing thing I have done to help with pain. Since you float on top of the epsom salt, these is no pressure anywhere. I actually fell asleep during my float. I felt better for a number of days after doing this.

September 25, 2010 at 12:10 am
(18) JoAnne says:

Long before I contracted Fibromyalgia anmd Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, My husband and I were dance instructors.We had gone to take part in a three day dance convention. After dancing for two of those days, when I got back to our room and took my shoes off I discovered large blisters on the bottom and sides of my feet. I figured the weekend was over for me. I had brought along some Epsom Salts just in case I needed them. After filling the bath tub with enough hot water to cover my feet, I poured in the Epsom Salts and soaked my feet for 1/2 hour sitting on the edge of the tub. When I finished and carefully dried my feet, I went to bed. Imagine my shock and surprise when looking at my feet the next morning and seeing they were almost healed! More importantly, the pain was completely gone.After applying some padded bandaides, I was able to go back and enjoy the dancing.

August 16, 2011 at 9:47 pm
(19) ttyme says:

I am trying to understand all the posters here. You tag onto an article that expresses some doubt in the efficacy of Epson salts, they want to down play any benefit using them has benefited you by reducing pain an aiding sleep and over all comfort. I am sorry, hot water alone is not going to give that kind of benefit alone. Not if chronic pain is your issue. I am not swearing a cure, but i will stand firmly by the fact that magnesium sulfite is invaluable internally AND transdermally for pain management and supplemental use.

Now for my testimony. I too have fibromyalgia. Not the severest of forms by any means, but depressingly painfull just the same. I have tried mag oil with good success. It lets me sleep soundly, stops my headaches on contact, and stops tingling. I even tried Epson salts foot soak to stop nail fungus. This was a foot soak only. I had no muscle spasms, or hand clenching, or headaches for 24hrs. Now don’t tell me that was just some nice hot water. Don’t think so. With hormone therapy, smoking cessation, and other transdermal pharmacological applications out there, it is very uninformed to say that the skin cannot absorb as well as it can escrete. SMH at this article.

June 30, 2012 at 3:56 am
(20) Connie says:

I didn’t think that I was having a problem with the eptsom salts. I know I always feel better when I do. My daughter mentioned that the salts soak into your system. I am retaining water which I thought was pills as I counted my calories and they are way lower than what I weigh. Could I be gaining weight from the salt in the bath along with my pills that I take.

April 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm
(21) zzcat says:

Funny, I just posted about Epsom salts on the article about hot baths. Just recently used Epsom salts and could feel the difference. I slept much better and felt like they had soaked some of the illness, pain, and medication buildup out of my body. I do take magnesium to help me sleep, but I don’t like to take it all the time. Don’t know if this helped in the same way, but it did help me sleep and it was better than having to take another pill (magnesium).

June 30, 2013 at 1:32 pm
(22) Angel says:

Epsom Salts work well. I also take Magnesium Oxide 400mg each day & that helps me sleep, gives energy, & relieves restless leg syndrome.
I’ve had Fibro since age 16 and since I found the book “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You about Fibromyalgia” and the Guaifenesin Protocol: my good days FAR OUTWEIGH the bad days.

July 12, 2013 at 4:17 am
(23) acker says:

i find epsom salt bath helpful. just dont have the water too hot. i tub bath instead of shower. the running water of the shower has a draining effect on most cfs people. i find this true also with sitting or standing in a breeze – exhausting! – doesnt even have to be a strong breeze.
take care ev.

August 12, 2013 at 2:13 am
(24) Rita says:

Please google Dr. St. Amand as he has fibromyalgia and has written a book about this subject. Guiafenesen protocal. Do it because it works.

January 12, 2014 at 7:31 pm
(25) martha says:

I have been mixing my own salt soak and it is a combination of European sea salt, Pacific sea salt, Epsom, and then Peppermint essential oil, eucaplytups oil, rosemary, oiland orange oil.. Salt does a lot for the body–it calms, detoxify’s relaxes, relieves inflammation, pain and clears our head… I have had fibro since 1998. I have had a sleep disorder since 1989. The sleep issue has been to the point where I have tried all the sleep meds and nothing really gets me more than 3 hours a night but all broke up into tiny increments.. I started using different types of soaks that I have made myself and have found some to be very beneficial for me as far as relaxing me, relieving my pain level and allowing me to sleep.. another one I use is lavender buds ground up into powder, chamomile ground, powdered milk, oatmeal ground, and then the 3 salts.. this too is calming before bed and yet soothing to the skin so as no itching. I read one person’s comment on here that there is no way the salt works.. I have made this recipe and shared with others who have the same issues and it is helping them too, so I do not believe it is mind over matter.. I do believe it does give some relief.. and if it gives some relief to me it is a blessing…and I will accept as much relief that I can get.

February 20, 2014 at 9:20 pm
(26) Jason Wallace says:

I own a floatation centre and several of our clients have benefited greatly when it comes to long term pain relieve and comfort as a result of floating in our tank that has 350 kgs of epsom

April 10, 2014 at 12:48 pm
(27) Jennifer says:

I soak in Epsom Salts during flare-ups, something I’ve recently started doing. I find it helps with inflammation. I don’t know how/why, but for me it does. I say if something works and is not harmful, don’t question it, just do it. Where I live the doctors don’t really prescribe too much in the way of pain meds, so I am willing to try just about anything that isn’t harmful!

April 10, 2014 at 7:33 pm
(28) Kristine says:

I use magnesium chloride bath salts, spray, lotions etc. It is a different form of magnesium and I feel like it is more effective for me. I use Epsom salt if I don’t have magnesium chloride. I have fibro and RA and find using this a few times a week helps my muscle spasms, RLS symptoms and sleep quality…I can definitely tell a difference when I run out. Direct spray to sore muscles helps a bit, and when my pain is severe, a warm bath w/ salts willcalm things down enough to allow me to rest.

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