Works for Everything from Toenail Fungus to Insomnia… and of Course Sore Muscles, Too

Old-fashioned Epsom salts — the stuff Grandma used as a soak for her aching feet — is undergoing a very modern makeover… to the point where the “Epsom Salt Council” has its own Facebook page and Twitter feed! I’m all for spreading the word — magnesium sulfate (the scientific name for Epsom salts) is indeed a great go-to solution for a wide swath of modern-day maladies, including stress, joint problems, inflammation and even cardiovascular disease. It’s important to know, however, that some Epsom salts enthusiasm is misplaced, according to Daily Health Newsmedical editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND. Although he is a proponent of Epsom salts for many purposes, he warns that some suggestions now floating around the Internet are not only off base, they’re dangerous.

First — Epsom Benefits

The two most popular longtime uses of Epsom salts are in the bath and to soak the feet. These are great ways to allow the body to absorb magnesium, a mineral that has many health virtues, including easing stress, improving mental focus and sleep, boosting muscle and nerve function, regulating enzyme activity, supporting circulation, increasing oxygen flow and more.

Bath: Soaking in Epsom salts is a superb way to facilitate absorption through the skin, which raises magnesium levels throughout the body, said Dr. Rubman. He recommends a pre-bedtime bath with Epsom salts as being “great for relaxation.” This is a far better way to get your magnesium than taking supplements, he said, since it avoids nasty potential side effects, including loose bowels or diarrhea. Dr. Rubman’s bath recommendation: Add several cups of Epsom salts to your running bath, allowing them to dissolve. Note:If you are being treated for a chronic disease and are on multiple medications — or are pregnant — check with your doctor first.

Foot soak: Your feet will benefit along with the rest of your body from the aforementioned bath — but if (as Grandma used to say) your “dogs are really barking,” Dr. Rubman has a recipe that will help immensely. For a super-saturated foot soak:Boil the water first, using a large pot, and then add several spoonfuls of Epsom salts until they dissolve… reheat the water until it boils again… add more salts… continue repeating until the salts no longer dissolve completely. When the solution has cooled down to “hot bath temperature” (around 104°F), carefully remove the pot from the stove and take it to the bathroom, setting it on the floor by the side of the bathtub. Soak your feet for seven to eight minutes, then douse your feet under cold running water from the faucet for a minute. People suffering from athlete’s foot or calluses (or other uncomfortable conditions) might want to repeat this two or three times a day. (It’s okay to reuse the solution, Dr. Rubman said.) If you have diabetic ulcers, poor circulation or a compromised immune system, check with your doctor first.

Toenail fungus: If you’ve got stubborn toenail fungus, Epsom salts are an easier solution than expensive laser therapy or medications with nasty side effects. Try this:First, make sure the affected nail is short. File across its surface before soaking, which enables the salts to easily reach the fungus. Add several tablespoons of Epsom salts to a shallow pan with hot water. Soak for 15 to 20 minutes two or three times a day. Dr. Rubman says this will help even more if you first add a few drops each of tea tree oil and oregano oil. Since toenail fungus is a tough adversary, be prepared for healing to take many months, and don’t be alarmed if your nail looks worse (“gnarly” as Dr. Rubman puts it) during the healing process.

Skin problems: Epsom salts can soothe skin eruptions such as poison ivy, allergic hives and sunburn. What to do:Depending on the severity of symptoms, you can either take an Epsom salts bath or, for more intense problems, soak a clean cloth in hot water that you have super-saturated with Epsom salts (as described above), and place it on the affected area for about 10 minutes several times a day. For even better results, Dr. Rubman suggests following the hot compress with an ice pack for one minute. For persistent skin problems, check with your dermatologist to make sure a different sort of treatment isn’t warranted.

Now… the Cautionary Note

The Epsom salts warnings concern the idea that it can be used in a drink or an enema to detox the colon and/or liver and gallbladder. The claim — seen on many Web sites — is that the magnesium in Epsom salts can help the digestive system better utilize oxygen, while the sulfate helps to improve digestion and produce useful enzymes. While magnesium sulfate theoretically does both, swallowing even small amounts can be dangerous and should be done only under medical advice and supervision, cautions Dr. Rubman. Epsom salts are powerful enough to disrupt the colonic environment, he explained, noting that in excess they can cause “hypermagnesemia,” which can be lethal. Another danger of using Epsom salts to internally “cleanse” is that it can upset the immune system, potentially even leading to chronic autoimmune problems. As far as using it as a laxative (another of those Internet ideas), Dr. Rubman cautions that drinking even small amounts as a laxative can result in unpredictable and possibly dramatic diarrhea — your bowels will indeed move, but likely not in the way that anyone would wish. Don’t even think about using Epsom salts internally without first discussing it with your doctor.