Epsom Salts


by Karen DeFelice and notes from Susan Owens

What are Epsom salts?
Epsom salts are magnesium sulphate.  Salts are just molecules that come together based on having a positive and negative charge.  Magnesium has a positive charge.  Sulphate has a negative charge, and they dissociate (or go their separate ways) in solution.  Sulphate is a sulphur atom surrounded by four oxygen atoms and it has a negative charge.  It has all sorts of unique biological functions.  Epsom salts can be very beneficial for individuals with neurological conditions including autism spectrum, sensory integration disorder, and ADD/ADHD.

How do they work? Why do they work?
Dr. Rosemary Waring has found that most autistic spectrum kids, and lots of others with neurological conditions, are very low in sulphate.  They may be as low as 15% of neurologically typical people.  Sulphate is needed for a pathway in the body that processes salicylates, phenols, chemicals of all kinds (including food colours, artificial flavouring, and preservatives), and other things the body sees as toxins.  This can include heavy metals.  The body may have more toxins to process than it can because of a lack of sulphur.  To alleviate the unpleasant reactions such as hyperness, aggression, tantrums, sleep problems, night sweats, irritability, eczema, other skin conditions, etc. you can unclog this "bottleneck" by 1) getting rid of the amount of toxins that enter the body, or 2) supplying more sulphur to increase the amount of toxins that can be processed from the body.  Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) supplies the needed sulphur.  The body takes in more sulphur, more toxins are processed and you don't see the nasty behaviours and effects.

Many people on a typical American diet are very deficient in magnesium as well.  Epsom salts also supplies magnesium.  A main effect of insufficient magnesium is hyperness, irritability, anxiety and muscle twitching or spasms.  So the salts provide two-way assistance.  Sulphur can also be added to the body by supplementing with MSM.

Some people may think Epsom salts work by pulling the toxins out of the body and into the water.  Certainly you can sweat out certain toxins like you would in a sauna, but the role of sulphate in the water for that process is questionable.  The way sulphate in the water is most likely to be working is by being absorbed into the body through the skin where it can become part of the biological process of detoxification.

Once in the blood, sulphate does not stay there for long.  In fact, some studies have suggested that it does what it does and then ends up in the urine four to nine hours later.  The Epsom salts left on the skin may continue to be absorbed as long as it is still on the skin, offering something sort of like "timed release" into the blood stream.  For that reason, leaving the Epsom salts on the skin to dry may be beneficial for stretching out the effectiveness of this intervention, like medications that are administered through skin patches.  None of this process of skin absorption has ever been quantified (as far as I know).

How to Give Epsom Salts
There are several methods parents have used.

1. Epsom salt baths.  Most people use about 1-2 cups per tub.  Dissolve the salts in hot water first and then fill the tub to about waist deep, as warm as possible.  The amount of salts that you may find works best will depend on the individual tolerance, the temperature of the water, and the size of the tub.  The warmer the water and larger the tub, the more salts will dissolve.  You may need to start slowly using as little as one tablespoon of salts and working up gradually.  Some people have been deficient for so long that the full quantity is too much a shock, and you will see negative reactions.  In the beginning, a person may react with hyperactivity, irritability or moodiness.  However, at the right amount, most people find the salts very calming and relaxing.  This works well before bedtime.  Soak in the bath a good 20 minutes.  It is okay to let the salts dry on the skin.  They may leave a dry clear-white powder.  If it is too itchy or irritating, just rinse them off.  If the skin feels too dry, use lotion or oils to moisturize.  Don't drink the bath water because it could cause diarrhoea.

2. Epsom salt oil.  I have been experimenting a bit with the Epsom salts.  It would leave a salty film on the skin, which my two boys and I didn't like (itchy).  Lately, I have been mixing some coconut oil in with the salts and water.  Actually it is more oil than water.  3 tablespoons water + 4 tablespoons salts + 12 tablespoon coconut oil.  The coconut oil is good for the skin anyway and it seems to counter the drying effect of the salts.  I found that just mixing the salts and oil did not dissolve the salts, so I needed to add just some water.  I apply this liberally on the skin and it soaks in plus leaves the skin smooth and soft.

3. Mix 1 part salts to 2 parts water (or more so the salts dissolve) and let the person soak their feet in it.  My boys would soak their feet about 30 minutes while they did reading or homework.

4. Mix 1 part salts and 1 part water (add more water if the salts are not dissolved) and put in a spray-squirt bottle.  Mist the child's chest and/or back and let it dry on.  Works well in the summer.

5. Use one of those plastic squeeze bottles with a sponge on top that are used for dampening postal stamps, and fill it with the Epsom salts and water.  A solution of 1 part salts to 4 parts water works well.  This can be applied to the arms or leg or tummy or whatever is easily accessible.

6. There are some new Epsom salt creams available.

7. You can mix a salt and some kind of acceptable lotion into a paste.  Put this paste on a large band-aid and apply to the skin.  The salts will soak in.

As you can see, there is no exact ratio…just what seems to get the salts dissolved and on the skin.  MSM powder or creams (many of these on the market) can help with the sulphur.  However, some recent research shows that oral sulphur is not as well absorbed.  Also, this won't supply magnesium.

Sulphate has an influence over almost every cellular function.  Sulphate attaches to phenols and makes them less harmful, and sets them up for being excreted from your kidneys.  A lot of these potentially toxic molecules are in foods, and since this is a capacity-limited system, those who are low in sulphate do well to eliminate exposures to foods and environmental things, which might put extra stress on this chemistry.  That strategy is the focus of the Feingold diet, which restricts phenols from the diet.  Your body also makes many different chemicals of this type, and they need to be cleared from the system before they get harmful.

If growth factors were bankers, sulphate would be their money.  Growth factors use sulphate to do their business.  That is why it is known that if you become VERY deficient in sulphate you will stop growing if you are a child, or you will start to break down (catabolize) your own muscle to make up for this deficiency.  That means if your child has not been growing, and has very flimsy muscles, you should be concerned that his sulphate chemistry may be hurting.  When this happens in very sick adults, it puts them into a state called cachexia, a wasting process that happens in Alzheimer's disease, AIDS, cancer, and an autism spectrum disorder called Rett Syndrome.

Sulphate is used to regulate the performance of many other molecules.  Many systems in the body will not function well in a low-sulphate environment.  One of the things is influences is the hormone that helps humans recognize faces and "socialize".   Increasing sulphur in the body can improve socialization and related issues.  Sulphur is so critical to life that the body will apparently borrow protein from the muscles to keep from running too low.

The autism community is learning that activating the immune system can put significant demands on this chemistry, and if that happens during infancy often enough and at critical stages, it may change or slow development.  The body can start to waste sulphate into the urine: sulphate that it needs critically.  If this happens, it could lead to the situation where the dietary sources of sulphur cannot be adequate to keep up with this drain.  Dr. Rosemary Waring has found that autistic children tend to be dumping needed sulphate and related sulphur compounds into the urine.  She has also found that the enzymes that make sulphate out of protein appear to be inhibited by one of the chemicals that is turned on by an activated immune system.

Blood tests are not really adequate for measuring this, because the blood is a delivery system, and can be a compensatory system.  Blood levels of sulphur-related compounds will actually go UP in the blood when the cells are starving, because the liver is trying to help out the rest of the body by exporting these materials.