From spas menus to the daily ritual of endurance athletes, Epsom salts are considered miracle workers that erase aches and pains. But … are they effective or just hype?
What are Epsom Salts?
Despite what the name suggests, Epsom salts are not actually salt. According to the Epsom Salt Council, the actual compound is a lot more scientific-sounding — Epsom salt is actually magnesium sulfate. Bathing in it for therapeutic purposes dates back centuries, and it has served thousands of people for health ailments ranging from the lactic acid build-up to insomnia.
What does science say?
“It should be noted that though Epsom salt has been studied for its impact on helping with soreness and muscle pain, we have no proven efficacy,” says Amy Rothenberg, ND. In a study published in Nutrients, researchers from Germany reviewed all available current literature and evidence-based data on Epsom salts and found no proof they offer medical benefits. Based on this, it’s hard to know, but if you find this form of recovery treatment works for you, keep using the salts, Rothenberg says. She does not discourage anyone from them due to their low side effects and cost. “Many athletes, dancers, hardworking people, and those with aches and pains in my practice swear that an Epsom salt soaks in hot water makes them feel better.” But, she likes to remind them that “a hot bath without Epsom salt would likely provide similar results.”
Should I try them?
The answer is yes. According to the Cleveland Clinic, doctors still promote Epsom salts for their mental and physical benefits, despite no clinical trials substantiating their usage.
If you want to try them as part of a workout recovery, it is possible you’ll receive one or more of the following benefits:
- “Epsom salts allow your body to absorb magnesium directly through the skin rather than through food or oral supplementation,” says Jaquel Patterson, ND, president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Endurance athletes need this mineral. In a study from the journal Nutrients, researchers found an elevated need for magnesium as an individual’s physical activity grew.
- Patterson recommends soaking in 1–2 cups of Epsom salts daily for at least 15 minutes for 5–7 days, and then one time per week thereafter if you want to increase the magnesium in your body.
- Epsom salts can also release tension and decrease stress levels “creating a calming effect,” says Alysa Boan, a certified personal trainer. She recommends using them in warm water to encourage relaxation.
- You can improve sleep quality and provide your body with the “ability to relax more fully into deep REM sleep,” says Patterson. She says magnesium can help aid vital sleep hormones like melatonin.
- Epsom salts are a natural anti-inflammatory, as they can increase blood circulation. This “aids in recovery from exercise and muscle soreness,” says Patterson.
- Though Patterson says you can use them on a daily basis, in amounts ranging from 2–4 cups per day, be mindful of the amount in your bath. “They can have a laxative effect. Many individuals can begin having a loose stool after having greater than 600 milligrams daily.”
- You can find relief from chronic pain. In a study from the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, the magnesium from Epsom salts might serve as an effective alternative to prescription drugs.
- For runners who face gastrointestinal issues, Epsom salts can help lessen inflammation in your internal organs, as well as reduce your risk of stroke, heart failure, and diabetes, according to BMC Medicine’s published analysis of magnesium studies.