Integrative medicine is a branch of healthcare that focuses on treating both the mind and body and exploring how they are closely connected. Some of the treatments and practices used by integrative medicine’s holistic approach include acupuncture, hypnotherapy and reiki.
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Another tool that integrative medical specialists often recommend for its physical and mental health benefits is Epsom salt. While no clinical trials have confirmed the benefits of Epsom salt, many healthcare providers promote it for its ease of use, reasonable price and minimally invasive delivery. To learn more, we turn to integrative medicine specialist Naoki Umeda, MD.
What is Epsom salt?
Epsom salt is one of many naturally occurring mineral salts, a compound of magnesium and sulfate in rock-like formations. The name “Epsom salt” is a nod to the town of Epsom, located a stone’s throw away from London in England, where the salt was supposedly discovered about 400 years ago.
While it resembles table salt, it has a very bitter taste and isn’t really meant to be consumed. Most users dissolve it in a warm bath for a soak with the hope of relieving stress or sore muscles.
How can you use Epsom salt?
The idea is that when you pour Epsom salt into warm water, it dissolves the magnesium and sulfate and allows it to be absorbed into your body through your skin. Centuries of user testimonials claim wonderful benefits from using Epsom salt this way.
Scientific research, however, isn’t quite as vocal in its support. There are no definitive studies showing that magnesium can be absorbed through your skin in sufficient amounts to address potential deficiencies of the mineral. And what research has been done offers skepticism.
Still, integrative medical experts commonly recommend Epsom salt to people with muscle pain and mental stress. If you want to try it for yourself, the process is pretty simple and light in risk.
- Pour about 300 grams (1.25 cups) of Epsom salt into a clean bathtub as it fills with hot water. (Avoid using Epsom salt in a tub with jets, a hot tub or a whirlpool bath unless the manufacturer says it’s OK.)
- Once the bath is drawn, test the water for its heat level and adjust as needed. You don’t want to scald yourself.
- Slowly ease yourself into the tub and relax. A 15-minute soak should be enough.
When purchasing Epsom salt, look to buy a product that’s 100% magnesium sulfate.
The benefits of an Epsom salt bath
Despite the lack of available scientific data, tales about the healing power of Epsom salt have been circulating for centuries, says Dr. Umeda. Users typically dissolve Epsom salt in bath water to release magnesium and sulfate ions and reap the benefits.
While some experts suggest that stress relief comes from the warm bath itself, others believe Epsom salt helps stabilize mood and relieve stress, anxiety and depression. In fact, some claim that taking magnesium increases serotonin (happiness or relaxation hormone) production in your brain.
Epsom salt is used to relax muscles and relieve pain in the shoulders, neck, back and skull. For example, by relaxing the muscles surrounding your skull, the magnesium in Epsom salt may help release a headache or migraine. This benefit can also aid sore muscles in the recovery period after a workout.
Some experts also think that magnesium is good for reducing inflammation in internal organs. This may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve digestion/bowel movement.
Side effects of an Epsom salt bath
Generally, there aren’t any — but there are some instances where caution is advised, says Dr. Umeda. Epsom salt baths aren’t recommended for people with:
- Severe skin inflammation.
- Skin infections.
- Open wounds.
- Severe burns.
Additionally, drinking Epsom salt — as some online “detox” plans tout — can cause serious side effects such as severe diarrhea, cautions Dr. Umeda. There aren’t any studies proving that taking Epsom salt orally is safe or beneficial. Taking it orally can lead to sudden and dramatic changes in bowel behavior; this, in turn, can be very dangerous and cause dehydration and discomfort.
If you’re curious about Epsom salt baths or have any concerns, check with your healthcare provider before using Epsom salts.