Few things are more relaxing than taking an Epsom salt bath after a long day. But did you know that you can also ingest these salts? Traditionally, they are used for detoxification, constipation relief, muscle aches and stiff joints. Their safety, though, is subject to debate.
The detoxifying effects of Epsom salt lack scientific evidence. Your body expels toxins through the liver, kidneys, skin and other organs. However, Epsom salt may help relieve constipation — a common cause of bloating and digestive discomfort.
Mix up to 6 teaspoons of Epsom salts with water and drink it immediately. Stick to one or two doses per day. This laxative solution should cause a bowel movement within 30 minutes to six hours.
How Does Epsom Salt Work?
Epsom salt has long been used as a natural remedy for constipation, arthritis pain, sore muscles and other ailments. A growing number of consumers are now using it for detox purposes. Proponents say that it rids the body of toxins and accelerates healing. However, there is little evidence to support its detoxifying effects.
Despite its name, this ingredient isn't an actual salt, but a mineral. Its scientific name is magnesium sulfate. In medicine, it's used as a cardiovascular drug, analgesic and anesthetic. Doctors also prescribe it to pregnant women with preeclampsia, a disorder that causes high blood pressure and damage to the liver and kidneys, among other symptoms.
Epsom salt is typically found in natural food stores and drugstores. It's best known for its laxative effects and may provide short-term relief of constipation, as the Mayo Clinic notes. Some people also take Epsom salt baths to alleviate pain and aches.
Anecdotal evidence says that drinking Epsom salt or using it as a soaking solution helps increase magnesium levels in the body. Magnesium plays a crucial role in protein synthesis, energy production, glucose metabolism, nerve function and other vital processes. About 50 to 60 percent of it is stored in your bones. Heavy drinking and certain health conditions can deplete the body's magnesium stores, leading to deficiencies.
Low magnesium levels may cause fatigue, muscle cramps, arrhythmia, numbness and poor appetite. Most people get enough magnesium from food, so deficiencies are rare.
According to a July 2017 review published in the journal Nutrients, there is not enough evidence to confirm that Epsom salt baths raise magnesium levels. Some studies confirm this claim, but their validity is questionable.
Drinking Epsom Salt for Detox
Epsom salt is often used for detoxification and weight loss. As mentioned, this product has laxative effects, causing more frequent bowel movements. Proponents say that drinking Epsom salt helps cleanse the colon and improves the body's ability to eliminate toxins. These claims lack scientific evidence, though.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), there is no convincing evidence that detox diets and cleanses are beneficial. In fact, colon cleansing procedures, such as drinking Epsom salt, can do more harm than good. Individuals with cardiovascular problems, digestive disorders or kidney disease are more likely to experience side effects. As the NCCIH points out, taking laxatives for detox may lead to electrolyte imbalances.
Your body has its own detoxification mechanisms. Metabolic waste, chemicals, lactic acid and other harmful substances are eliminated through sweat, urine, respiration and feces, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Certain factors can affect the body's ability to flush out toxins. As a result, these compounds can accumulate in your tissues.
However, you don't need to use detox programs or take laxatives to eliminate toxins. There are safer, more effective ways to bring your body back in balance and eliminate waste. For example, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends drinking clean water, eating more fiber and filling up on fruits and veggies, especially berries, garlic and cruciferous vegetables. Green tea may help too, due to its high antioxidant levels.
A review featured in the British Journal of Pharmacology in October 2016 assessed the antioxidant effects of green tea. As the researchers note, this beverage is rich in catechins, flavonoids, isoflavones, anthocyanidins, polyphenols and other bioactive compounds that scavenge oxidative stress. These nutrients may have beneficial effects on blood sugar levels, glucose metabolism, endothelial function and more.
How to Use Epsom Salt
An Epsom salt cleanse is unlikely to rid your body of toxins, but it may help relieve constipation. If left unaddressed, this condition may put you at risk for hemorrhoids, anal fissures, rectal prolapse and fecal impaction. You may also experience bloating and gas, digestive discomfort and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
Magnesium sulfate comes in powder or crystal form. The Mayo Clinic recommends dissolving one dose (2 to 6 teaspoons) into 8 ounces of water. Stir well and drink it at least two hours before or after taking other drugs so that your body has enough time to absorb it. Don't exceed two doses per day. If you dislike its flavor, add fresh lemon or lime juice.
According to Michigan Medicine, this mixture should cause a bowel movement within 30 minutes to six hours. Beware of its potential side effects, though.
Large doses may cause drowsiness, vomiting, nausea, slow heart rate and even death. Consult your doctor beforehand if you have a bowel obstruction, severe constipation, kidney disease, colitis or diabetes.
Are There Any Alternatives?
As you see, Epsom salt has its share of side effects and may not work for everyone. Additionally, its detoxifying properties are questionable at the least. The good news is, there are safer ways to detox and boost your health.
To start, get more antioxidants in your diet. These compounds neutralize free radicals and prevent their formation, maintain cell functioning and reduce oxidative stress, according to a November 2015 review published in the Journal of Orofacial Sciences. Furthermore, they may lower your risk of age-related diseases, improve immune function and protect against cancer and cardiovascular problems.
Most fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and other whole foods are loaded with antioxidants. Berries and grapes, for example, boast large doses of anthocyanins. Cruciferous veggies, such as cabbage, are rich in indoles. Legumes and milk are naturally high in isoflavonoids, while whole grains contain lignans.
A healthy gut can improve the body's ability to flush out toxins, as reported in a research paper published in the April-June 2012 edition of the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. Certain foods, especially those rich in flavonoids and other phytochemicals, support the gut detoxification system. Fruits and vegetables are particularly beneficial.
Probiotic foods, such as kefir, sauerkraut and yogurt, inhibit the production of bacterial toxins and reduce the metabolic reactions that promote toxin production. They also keep your gut healthy by increasing the number of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Consume them regularly to reap the benefits.
A diet rich in antioxidants, probiotics and other nutrients can do more for your health than any detox plan. What you eat has the biggest impact on your body's ability to expel toxins. Choose whole foods over processed products, stay hydrated and engage in regular exercise to sweat more and detoxify naturally.
- PubChem: "Magnesium Sulfate"
- Mayo Clinic: "Preeclampsia"
- Mayo Clinic: "Magnesium Sulfate (Oral Route, Topical Application Route, Route Not Applicable)"
- NIH: "Magnesium"
- Nutrients: "Myth or Reality — Transdermal Magnesium?"
- NCCIH: "Detoxes and Cleanses"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "What's the Deal With Detox Diets?"
- British Journal of Pharmacology: "Antioxidants From Black and Green Tea: From Dietary Modulation of Oxidative Stress to Pharmacological Mechanisms"
- Mayo Clinic: "Constipation"
- University of Michigan Health System: "Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salt)"
- JOFS: "Role of Antioxidants in Facilitating the Body Functions: A Review"
- Better Health Channel: "Sources of Antioxidants"
- NCBI: "Modulation of Intestinal Functions by Dietary Substances: An Effective Approach to Health Promotion"
- Nutrients: "Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health"
- NCBI: "Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury in Sweat: A Systematic Review"