General Question

jabag11's avatar

What does an Epsom Salt Bath do for you exactly?

Asked by jabag11 (670 points ) December 24th, 2010

I heard it was really good for you but I’m just wondering how it can be good for you, what does it do for you exactly? Why do people use it?

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34 Answers

marinelife's avatar

“They are said to have great medicinal value to draw toxins from the body and to sedate the nervous system.”

E-How

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

Michael Jackson? You’re just seeing if we’re really paying attention, aren’t you?

Epsom salts bring the lactic acid that builds up in your muscles – especially after a workout (that’s why your muscles are sore, it’s the buildup of lactic acid) and pulls it out through the skin. It also draws other fluids out of the body, helping to reduce any swollenness.

You can find out more awesome bath stuff here.

syz's avatar

Errr, Epsom salts being able to pull lactic acid out of muscles doesn’t make much sense to me – muscle, connective tissue, and skin just aren’t that porous. Looking around, I did find this:

Soaking in hot water with Epsom salt is widely accepted method of treating muscle soreness and easing its pain by drawing out lactic acid.1 Touted as an effective home remedy, ‘everybody’ just seems to trust it.

However, there’s no actual scientific evidence that it does anything. And explanations such as ‘osmosis’ and ‘drawing out lactic acid’ don’t make sense: lactic acid is removed from your muscles by your body by about an hour after exercise, and osmosis is the process of water diffusing across cell membranes, not muscle toxins of some kind.

But, it does feel nice to soak in a hot bath and the Epsom salt makes the water feel soft and relaxing. Even if there’s no scientific evidence of real benefit, it can still be fun and relaxing.

Source

gasman's avatar

Some would question the efficacy of magnesium sulfate baths to do much to aid recovery from muscle pain, soreness or injury. “Drawing out toxins” may sound like nice, folksy, wholesome practice but it’s totally lacking any recognized physiologic mechanism. Hypertonic solute baths might reduce swelling in open wounds, however.

Rarebear's avatar

If you use soap, you get clean. Other than that it has no medicinal effects.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Rarebear Even if you don’t believe in the detox part, it does increase your levels of magnesium, which most Americans are lacking in.

Rarebear's avatar

@papayalily No it doesn’t. Your skin is waterproof and impervious to the absorptions of solutes. And most Americans are not lacking in magnesium.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@syz @gasman Some would question the reliability of your sources…

@Rarebear Waterproof, not everything proof. Otherwise, we could touch lots of stuff that we’re told is toxic and will be absorbed through our skin… Dr. Rosemary Waring did a study in which she found that the levels of magnesium were higher in people’s blood and urine after bathing in a magnesium sulfate bath. According to the USDA, 61% of the US population does not meet the US RDA for levels of magnesium.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

The general thinking behind Epsom salts (not actually a salt at all) is that he sulfates in Epsom salt help flush toxins and heavy metals from the cells, easing muscle pain and helping the body to eliminate harmful substances. Your skin is a highly porous membrane and adding the right minerals to your bathwater triggers a process called reverse osmosis, which actually pulls salt out of your body, and harmful toxins along with it.

Of course, there don’t appear to be any studies on the matter at all, so no one can say definitively if it does or doesn’t. But it’s not unproven, either.

cazzie's avatar

hey hey….. Epsom salts are Magnesium Sulfate.. not like table salt at all. The body can actually absorb the magnesium through the skin, raising the level of magnesium in the body. Magnesium is an important element in the body, especially for the nervous system.
read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnesium_in_biology

forget the flushing of toxins idea….. and your skin is not that porous.. thank goodness, or it wouldn’t work properly. If you want to loose toxins through your skin, have a good sweat in a sauna. We’re building one at our new home this summer. Come on over.

If you want to get rid of toxins though your ‘waste disposal system’ take extra good care of your liver and kidneys.

syz's avatar

@papayalily If skin was such a highly porous membrane, then swimming in the ocean would be a dangerously dessicating experience. Skin’s very purpose is to be a barrier to the outside world.

josie's avatar

Nothing

YARNLADY's avatar

@syz Obviously you have never seen a tobacco detox where the ex-smoker is wrapped up in a white sheet in a sauna, and the sheet turns brown everywhere it touches their skin. The skin is a permeable barrier. If it wasn’t, when you rub lotion on your skin, it would not soak in.

However, if you soak your feet in Vodka, you will not get drunk, according to a British Medical Journal.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
mrmijunte's avatar

They add it to the juice at prison facilities so inmates don’t get morning wood. At least that’s the theory between inmates. The epsom salt, not the one for baths.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@syz Salt is too big to get in. Other stuff isn’t – and there’s no salt in Epsom Salts. Which is a large reason why surfers get so many health problems – they absorb a lot of the toxins in the ocean.

Rarebear's avatar

There’s no salt in epson salts? What exactly do you call magnesium sulfate? Did you ever take chemistry? Of course it’s a salt.

And I know plenty of surfers. They are perfectly healthy—healthier than I am actually since they get regular exercise.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Rarebear Sorry, I meant the other salt. There was a brain fart in there.
But yeah, surfers tend to have health problems. That isn’t to say that the exercise doesn’t help, and most of what surfers get is runny noses, sore throats, a case of the runs – nothing too serious – but it’s there. Plus, remember Erin Brockovich? Hexavalent chromium is considered so toxic partly because it can be absorbed through the skin.

@seazen Don’t we all?

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
cazzie's avatar

@Rarebear What @papayalily means is that Epsom salt is NOT table salt. Soap is a salt too, if you want to really get chemical on the subject. Magnesium Sulfate is different to Sodium chloride (table salt).

Yes, there are things that will permeate the skin and researchers are always looking at drug delivery systems. Nicotine, as @YARNLADY mentioned, is one that goes through the skin barrier. That is why those nicotine patches are so effective. But, skin is still a barrier to most things.

There have been studies on the absorption of magnesium by soaking in epsom salts. It was a study with a clinic for alcoholics, as it turned out. (Alcohol ‘steals’ potassium and magnesium.) The concentrations were quite high of Epsom salt to water, and the ‘bathing time’ was a minimum of 20 minutes and nothing else was added to the water. If you add soap or fragrance, it can coat you skin with the oil and that blocks the absorption. Their blood was drawn to see if there was an increase of Mg and sure enough! More than the group who had just regular baths. Not a super huge amount, but enough to prove that it does get absorbed.

OK? I sell the stuff as part of my natural soap products. I believe in it. People here in Norway had never heard of it before. There’s been people with chronic conditions who have gotten some relief by soaking in epsom salts a few times a week. Magnesium is important to your wellbeing and finding effective ways to consume it without causing diarrhoea is a problem for doctors and dieticians. Soaking in Epsom salts has been shown to raise the level of Mg in people’s blood.

cazzie's avatar

@mrmijunte It’s not epsom salt they supposedly give the prison inmates. That’s a different compound that goes by the common name ‘Saltpeter’.... or it’s chemical name is potassium nitrate, or sodium nitrate is also called this. It’s most commonly found in preserved meats, like salamis, ham…. etc… it’s E number is E249, E250 and E251.

There used to be a widespread urban legend regarding salt peter that claimed it was added to the food in all male institutions, including the United States Army, as a way to curb libido. It is unlikely that this practice existed, however, since salt peter not only has no such effect, but also can have a number of ill side effects if taken in excess, such as poisoning, reproductive damage, and cancer. K?

mrmijunte's avatar

@cazzie Ooops! Yes you are right. I was dazed and confused.

Rarebear's avatar

@papayalily “most of what surfers get is runny noses, sore throats, a case of the runs – nothing too serious – but it’s there.”
Based upon what information do you know this? And even if it’s true, what does that have to do with Epson Salt baths?

@cazzie “Soap is a salt too, if you want to really get chemical on the subject. Magnesium Sulfate is different to Sodium chloride (table salt).”
Yes, I know. I taught chemistry.

“There have been studies on the absorption of magnesium by soaking in epsom salts.”
I’d like to see those studies. Please post the links.

“OK? I sell the stuff as part of my natural soap products. I believe in it”
Ah, here we go. You have a financial incentive.

“There’s been people with chronic conditions who have gotten some relief by soaking in epsom salts a few times a week. ”
Show me a placebo controlled trial where this was shown to be true.

“Magnesium is important to your wellbeing and finding effective ways to consume it without causing diarrhoea is a problem for doctors and dieticians. ”
Interesting. I am a doctor, and I also am the director of the nutrition support team in my hospital. I have directed the nutrition support team for 15 years, and I can honestly say that not once did magnesium come up in conversation. Also, I’m married to a dietitian, and she never talks about magnesium either. This would be a really good time for you to show me another source for your information.

“Soaking in Epsom salts has been shown to raise the level of Mg in people’s blood.”
Again this claim without any evidence. And even if it is true, what is the clinical significance?

jabag11's avatar

Ok but if I take this after a workout to relieve soreness, I heard doing things like this and going to the sauna for example, may relieve soreness but at the same time is bad for muscle growth, it reduces the amount of muscle growth that would have happened if you left the muscles soar, since being soar in this case is a good things you know?

What do you guys think!?!

beautiful answers by the way. I was just thinking about using this to help me fall asleep at night since it’s said to be so “relaxing”

Rarebear's avatar

@jabag11 Don’t worry, it’s not bad for muscle growth.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Rarebear It’s common knowledge among surfers. It as nothing to do with Epsom Salts, but when you claim nothing can get beyond skin, it does enter the conversation. And since skin being able to absorb certain molecules is common knowledge, I’m beginning to wonder if you really are a doctor. And @cazzie merely restated what I said, which was sourced – there’s no reason for her to have to hunt down what I’ve already posted.

Rarebear's avatar

@papayalily Wow, talk about a straw man argument and an ad hominum attack. Well done! I’m done with you.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Rarebear It’s not an ad hominum attack if you’re claiming that the reason we should listen to you more than others is because you’re a doctor.

cazzie's avatar

sorry, people…I’m without a reliable internet source, but I’ll get back to this as soon as I can…

I sell the stuff… in small amounts…. at very little mark up… so whole crap… I only mentioned that because I do believe it helps people…. not because I’m lining my pockets with gold… sheesh….. I charge enough to cover the cost of the stuff, and freight and a minimum of shelf space (I pay rent at my retail space).... My soap is my skill, I only rebag the epsom salt and offer it as an accessory because I think it should be more widely available, as it is in many other places. If demand and word gets around, and someone can import the stuff in proper amounts, it can be offered in the amounts, outlets and price it should be. I’m trying to create a market for it, but not for my benefit. It’s not part of my core business.

as for skin permeability… yes….. there are toxins that go through the skin barrier. Absolutely. I am left wondering about a friend’s death just recently. She was a photographer and probably was exposed to a lot of chemicals, like Rodinal. She died of liver cancer.

I will post the source of my previous post as soon as I have proper internet connection again….. (I’m moving house and these things take time, especially over Christmas/New Years)

cazzie's avatar

@Rarebear
http://www.mgwater.com/transdermal.shtml
It’s from a 2004 study at Birmingham University.

What kind of diet clinics have you or your spouse worked in? Do you mainly work with weight loss?

cazzie's avatar

@Rarebear what you said: Your skin is waterproof and impervious to the absorptions of solutes. And most Americans are not lacking in magnesium.

What are your sources for that statement. Just being a doctor?

Percutaneous absorption of solutes DOES occur. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17657437

Topical application of NSAIDS has been around for years.

cazzie's avatar

A bath is quite relaxing anyway, @jabag11 and a nice wind down before bed. A nice warm bath and a bit of a rub on the muscles isn’t going to stop the muscles growing. It’s going to give you 20 minutes to slow down and increase your circulation, and that’s only a good thing.

(do you think @Rarebear ever came back to read my responses?)

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