Constipation is a common digestive health problem: The National Health Interview Survey has estimated that more than 4 million Americans suffer from constipation frequently. Epsom salts can reverse constipation effectively, but should not be used frequently or your body could become dependent on them.
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People who have constipation may have infrequent bowel movements (fewer than one every other day), and may strain to pass stools or pass hard, dry stools, according to the Mayo Clinic. The problem affects about 2 percent of the population at any given time, and is three times more common in women than in men. Mayo Clinic physicians recommend trying over-the-counter laxatives such as Epsom salts to relieve constipation.
Epsom salts (in the group of oral hyperosmotics laxatives) actually are the salt magnesium sulfate. Epsom salts work for constipation by pulling water into the colon, which makes stools easier to pass. The magnesium in them also can work to cause muscle contractions, which may make it easier for the colon to contract and evacuate stool.
Someone suffering from constipation can take Epsom salts in the form of milk of magnesia, a common over-the-counter laxative that's available in both tablet or liquid form and should be taken according to package directions. Epsom salts also are available over-the-counter in inexpensive bulk generic containers sold in most drug stores. When using bulk Epsom salts for constipation, follow package directions if available, or mix 2 to 4 teaspoons of the salts into a glass of water or juice and drink.
Epsom salts can cause a bowel movement in as little as half-an-hour, and generally work within six hours. However, Mayo Clinic gastroenterologists warn that Epsom salts carry a list of possible side effects, including cramping, bloating, diarrhea, gas and nausea. They also can cause increased thirst; as the body draws water into the colon, you'll need to replace that water. It's also possible to become dependent on Epsom salts to have a bowel movement, and that's why doctors recommend only infrequent use.
Some natural health experts think magnesium deficiency may cause chronic constipation. In this case, regular Epsom salt baths may solve the problem over time in a gentler fashion that doesn't cause side effects, and that may relieve muscle aches and pains as a bonus. To use Epsom salts in a bath, fill a bathtub with warm water and add 1 to 2 cups of Epsom salts. Soak for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes.