By Dr. Anthony B. James DM(P), ND, MD(AM), SMOKH
What is Epsom Salt?
Epsom salt is a heptahydrate of epsomite (Magnesium Sulfate), which originates from the town of Epsom in Surrey, England. One of the traditional sources of anhydrous magnesium sulfate is a little town in Surrey, England that has been famous for many centuries for mining of magnesium sulfate, which is a crystalline mineral. Epsom salt is a specific mineral. It’s a sulfate, a mineral salt. Whenever you hear the word “sulfate,” think salt. There are 92 different trace minerals that are necessary for health to support all the different functions that the body has to have for metabolism, nervous function, digestion, growth, cellular division, and detoxification.
Anytime you have one mineral that is in excess and out of proportion to all of the other minerals, it causes an imbalance. Sometimes in natural medicine we recommend a specific mineral supplement for short-term uses. For example, if I tested you right now and you were anemic, it is quite possible that depending one how anemic you were and whether or not you were having some ill effects or bad health as a result of the anemia, I might recommend to you an iron or other mineral supplement. I wouldn’t just recommend any kind of an iron supplement, I would recommend an iron that was in colloidal form, that was plant-derived, not mining derived, because I would like for that mineral to be properly utilized by the body.
All Minerals are not created equal
The structure of the molecules in ferrous iron sulfate (commonly known as rust) is 10,000 times larger than what you would find in Spinach. In plants, the iron has already been broken down through the metabolic process, first by the bacteria in the root system of the plant and then by the plant itself. It has also been chelated or buffered with other minerals through the chlorophyll process in the plant. The structure of the iron in the plant is 10,000 times smaller than what you would get in the commercially available ferrous iron sulfate. The plant is better than sucking on a rusty nail! You do not get the same iron benefit from sucking on a rusty nail, which is the direct mineral, than you do from eating a plant or taking a plant-derived source of the iron. I would be very specific about that. Generally, plant derived minerals are always in combination, so even if I recommended an iron supplement it would be in a delivery form that would still contain approximately 22 other minerals necessary for the body to metabolize and assimilate that iron in balance. Even though I’m recommending the iron to correct the anemia short term, I would (for example) have to be careful not to throw off the calcium metabolism while doing that. I would be pretty selective about the kind of supplement that I would recommend.
Common uses for Magnesium Sulfate
The primary function of magnesium sulfate in industry is that it is a drying agent. For example, bottles of supplements have a little white packet filled with magnesium sulfate to draw out moisture so that the supplements aren’t compromised. It’s a dehydrating agent and it does the same thing inside your body. It is also a desiccant, meaning that it absorbs water. For example, a common food supplement like gomashio, a sesame seed, sea salt and Dulse mix, will have a desiccant packet. Inside the packet is Epsom salts.
Epsom salt is used as the primary ingredient in flotation tanks or sensory deprivation tanks because it changes the buoyancy. In one tank, you may put up to four or five hundred pounds of Epsom salt in the tank and that would increase the buoyancy to approximately the same as the Dead Sea. You would then be able to float really high in the water. The water has a really smooth feeling to it so when you’re in a float tank, the water is warm and has this luscious feel on your skin and you float really high in the water. One of the benefits of being in a float tank is that the magnesium sulfate flushes the skin and has a hydration effect on the surface of the skin as it is soaked in. That is part of why doing an Epsom salt bath makes you feel better, and also why a float tank makes you feel better. There’s 400-500 lbs of Epsom salt in there, and they use 50 lb bags! I have a student who operated a float center in Indianapolis and I helped her load up a new float tank once and it was a lot of work! We had to drag in those 50 lb bags of Epsom salts, cut them open, pour them into the tank, rake it all even and fill the tank with the hose.
Lets make Tofu!
Another common use of magnesium sulfate is as a coagulant to make tofu. When you’re making home-brewed tofu, and you’ve cooked your soybeans and you have the broth, you add a little magnesium sulfate and it causes it to coagulate like cheese. As soon as it separates, you strain the soy whey from the curd. Then you put that in a press and you further extract all the water from it and what you are left with is called tofu. The amount of magnesium sulfate that remains in the tofu is very small, but it may also be one of the reasons, aside from the excess of estrogens, why you do not want to eat too much tofu or tofu products. Yes, Japanese and Chinese people eat tofu but they still do not eat as much as we do. It is not a primary dish and they never eat it as an entrée or a meal. In a 14 ounce bowl of Miso soup, there might be a few grams of tofu in the whole bowl. There won’t be an ounce or two ounces or five ounces of tofu in a bowl, just a couple of little cubes.
What does magnesium sulfate do?
What are the effects, and are there any contraindications? The Epsom salts increase the ionic strength of the water and that flushes the superficial skin, promoting circulation. As magnesium sulfate soaks into the skin, it can reduce inflammation.
Reducing inflammation in the superficial skin can help to reduce pain. I believe that it has an effect on pain not because of the detoxification effect, but because it produces vaso-dilation of peripheral blood vessels by stimulating nerve endings of the skin to generate irritation. The irritation actually reduces pain. This is the principle of counter-irritant reflex response, which is the superficial use of analgesics that help with deep pain by rubbing something like tiger balm on the surface and it will relieve some pain. This is because it hyper-stimulates the nerve at the surface of the skin, which shares a dorsal root with the muscle that is under the skin. There is a feedback loop that is created as a result of the irritation or inflammation, which reduces pain. When I flush that same point with fluid, hydrating the tissue and releasing stress on the nerve and the superficial point, it may also have the same effect deep inside the body, even into the joint. It can also induce reflex stimulation of seemingly unrelated organs such as the colon. We think that is part of the reason why soaking in a salt bath may have some effect on pain.
In relation to treating constipation (which is the conversation that I happened to over-hear) it is under the category of saline laxatives. Saline laxatives attract and retain water in the intestinal lumen, increasing intraluminal pressure and softening the stool. That sounds good so far! It will also cause release of cholecystokinins, which stimulate the digestion of fat and protein. That doesn’t sound bad either! Saline laxatives may alter a patient’s fluid, PH and electrolyte balance. What is an electrolyte balance? Electrolytes are the minerals and or mineral salts in the body that are capable of holding and distributing electrical charge in the body.
The balance refers to the percentages of the 92 electrolytes to each other. They are not all created equal and there is not the same amount of all of them in the blood supply, interstitial fluids or in the fatty tissues. In a healthy person they are in definite proportion and symmetry to each other. Those balances have to be in proportion or we immediately begin to have some negative health effects. Electrolyte balance is what cells use to maintain voltages across cell membranes and to carry electrical impulses across to themselves and to other cells. This includes nerve impulses, muscle contractions such as of the heart, and peristalsis of the large and small intestine. There is also a contraction of the kidneys. The kidneys are pumps that have to move a lot of fluid and they don’t do it passively, it is not an osmotic process, but they have vessels or tubules that they have to force and move fluid through.
We would like to see that maintained, because when the kidneys stop doing that it is called renal failure and that would be a terminal issue. If the heart beat is erratic that’s an arrhythmia (Tachycardia). If it stops beating, that’s called a heart attack (myocardial infarction) and is potentially a terminal issue. If the colon stops working, there’s a whole list of adverse consequences and eventually it could be fatal. Certainly a colon that has lost its ability to sustain the pressure of peristalsis can also cause backup pressure that can lead to a compromised appendix, for example.
If you are using a saline laxative, it can raise blood pressure and cause dehydration. The most common instant side effect of taking in too much magnesium sulfate out of proportion to all the 92 other trace minerals is that it instantly raises your blood pressure. The second thing that it does it causes dehydration. We want to reasonably avoid things that cause dehydration because dehydration either causes or exacerbates about one hundred chronic illness. Over-use of magnesium sulfate can lead to intestinal paralysis, irritable bowel syndrome, pancreatitis and renal failure. That doesn’t sound good!
Regular use often indicates the presence of an eating disorder. The most dramatic eating disorder that is indicated with regular use of saline laxatives is bulimia nervosa. If I was assessing whether or not you were bulimic, one of the primary questions I would ask is about your use of laxatives, especially saline laxatives because chronic use is considered across the board to be an indication of bulimia, and it may be undiagnosed bulimia.
Contraindication for using
Do not use magnesium sulfate as a laxative if you have stomach or abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting, unless directed by a doctor. If you notice a sudden change in bowel habits that persists over a period of two weeks, consult your provider before using a laxative. Magnesium sulfate should not be used for longer than one week. Under no circumstances should you use it as a laxative continuing for more than one week because of the aforementioned side effects.
Do not take magnesium sulfate if you have kidney problems. For example, as a health care provider even considering recommending a short-term laxative, one of the very first questions I would ask is if you have or have ever had kidney problems. If the answer is yes, under no circumstances should you be doing this type of saline laxative. When we ingest Epsom salts, the only legitimate reason to do so is as a saline laxative. It is heavily couched in questions and contraindications. For example, there can be interactions and complications with the ingestion of antacids. The next question you have to ask the person is; are you taking any kind of antacids? The magnesium sulfate will interact with the antacid and it will block calcium uptake.
Do not mix with other remedies. If you had a calcium deficiency disorder like osteoporosis, or any kind of bone-depletion (a mineral depletion syndrome caused by a lack of certain trace minerals), heart burn or gas and for any reason you are taking Prilosec or any other antacid, when you ingest magnesium sulfate it may actually combine with that chemical and block your calcium uptake, which will make your calcification worse. Calcium is one of the key factors in the function of the nervous system and the immune system. So we don’t do these things lightly. Antacids contain aluminum, calcium, and/or other forms of magnesium and they bind to phosphate in your digestive system and actually will prevent your body from absorbing the phosphate. It can also block certain parts of the digestive function altogether. (Continued in Epson Salts and Constipation: Part 2)
All Information is provided for educational purposes only and not intended to be used for any therapeutic purpose, neither is it intended to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure any disease. Please consult a health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. While all attempts have been made to ensure the accuracy of this information. The author and ThaiYogaCenter.Com does not accept any responsibility for any errors or omissions.
Copyright© 2011, Dr. Anthony B. James DM(P), ND, MD(AM), SMOKH All rights reserved under International and Pan American copyright conventions. World rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Inquires should be addressed to: Dr. Anthony B. James DM(P), ND, MD(AM), SMOKH, 4715 Bruton Rd. Plant City, FL 33565 · http://www.ThaiYogaCenter.Com