Epsom Salt Baths

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Epsom salts Epsom salts are made up of a naturally occurring mineral that is found in water. More properly known as magnesium sulfate, Epsom salt derives its popular name from the town of Epsom, England, where the compound was first distilled from water. The chemical formula is: MgS04-7H2O.
Epsom salts Epsom salts are made up of a naturally occurring mineral that is found in water. More properly known as magnesium sulfate, Epsom salt derives its popular name from the town of Epsom, England, where the compound was first distilled from water. The chemical formula is: MgS04-7H2O.[1]




Perhaps the most popular application is the Epsom salts bath. Epsom salt is also available in a gel form for topical application in treating aches and pains.

Common Uses

Treating minor sprains and bruises with Epsom salts is also thought to be very effective. A simple Epsom salt bath applied to the area of the sprain or the bruise will provide relief to the impacted area, helping to reduce swelling and minimize the soreness. Immersing the area in warm water and Epsom salts for twenty to thirty minutes not only provides physical relief from the ailment, but also can be refreshing for the mind as well.[1]

Epsom Salts and Autism

Dr. Rosemary Waring of the School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham
Dr. Rosemary Waring of the School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham

Dr Rosemary Waring of the School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, discovered that children with autism have a deficiency in a key detoxification pathway. The pathway involves using sulfur in the form of sulfate (known as sulfation).

  • The enzyme involved is phenol sulfur-transferase (PST), but the problem is thought to hinge on an inadequate supply of usable sulfate ions, not the metabolic enzyme itself.
  • Dr Waring found that most children on the autism spectrum are very low in sulfate and may be as low as 15 percent of the amount in neurologically typical people.
  • People with low or no ability to convert compounds to sulfate have problems handling environmental chemicals, some medications, and even some chemicals produced within the body. [2]

Susan Owen's on Sulfation

Susan Owens, MAIS, RA
Susan Owens, MAIS, RA

Since completing her masters degree at the University of Texas in Dallas, Susan Owens has lectured internationally and has also presented at the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health. Susan has focused on finding the basic science that tells us how the sulfur system works:

  • how it is integrated,
  • how it matures, and
  • how it interacts with other systems and
  • what it does in neurodevelopment.

Oxalates appear to be part of the sulfur system, but their role outside the well-characterized role of binding to calcium and incidentally forming kidney stones is little understood.


Perhaps I can be of some help in describing what sulfate does in the system since I have been doing research for many years now, combing through the medical literature to find out sulfate's biological role. I discovered that things in that field have been changing so rapidly, that there is not much possibility that your doctor has been able to keep up...

I know the professors I had in graduate school have been shocked by what I've shown them in the last few years as I dragged in to them study after study that showed how involved sulfate was with processes they were studying while being unaware of its involvement.

What Is Sulfate?

But let me begin by making sure you know what sulfate is:

  • Sulfate is made up of a sulfur atom in the center, surrounded by four oxygen atoms. It is called an oxyanion, and it has a negative charge, which means it can be part of a salt which will form by linking to a positive ion like sodium or magnesium, but this will come apart in solution.
  • Sulfate can also be joined to molecules in a stronger and more "permanent" bond.

Role of Sulfates

Sulfate has been known for years to provide a very potent way of detoxifing certain chemicals that we get from the food we eat, or the medicines we take, or the fumes we smell, or similar molecules we make in our own systems, most particularly, neurotransmitters. When this process is impaired by lack of sulfate, those substances become toxic to our cells.

Sulfate also can act as an off or on signal for a lot of molecules, like hormones. But the digestive system particularly is quite regulated by sulfate, for the action of two of its most major hormones and neurotransmitters, gastrin and cholecytokinin, are either stronger with sulfate or totally dependent on sulfate (like cholecystokinin at its "A" receptor). Without these signals working well, you can't get proper service from your pancreas or your gall bladder, and your ability to utilize your food would be impaired. Cholecystokinin also has important functions in the brain.

Regulating Cell Chemistry

But sulfate's most important role is just now being discovered: and that is its role in regulating cell chemistry. Sulfate is attached in large quantity, as if it were leaves on a tree, on molecules which cover the cell surface, called proteoglycans. The trunk of these "trees" is protein, but the branches that hold sulfate are made of sugar, and those branches are called glycosaminoglycans, or GAGs, for short.

Only in the last few years has it been realized that the thought-to-be-random distribution of sulfate on these sugar chains called GAGs is not random at all, but is highly regulated, determining what will happen with other molecules that approach the cell and are about to give the cell a signal.

Leaky Gut

These GAGs also provide some kind of structural integrity to some types of tissue, among them being the walls of the gut and things like cartilage. When the GAGs in the gut become undersulfated, then that makes the gut leaky, providing the way for overly-large pieces of proteins from our food to escape into the blood stream where they can both induce allergic responses, and the opiate excess problem that you've probably heard about.

But GAGs also provide structural integrity to all types of cells as they associate with neighboring cells, and also carry information (described in sulfate patterns) about the needs of other cells to the cells they encounter. These GAGs are important for helping escort molecules which are trying to signal the cell. These other molecules are called ligands, but GAG chains, patterned with sulfate, are involved with helping them find their customized receptors on the cell surface. This is very new, but it appears that GAGs regulate ligands and their receptors by encouraging and enabling some connections and preventing others, in a developmentally regulated fashion. They also recently have been discovered to mediate a whole new type of delivery of molecules into the cell, in a new form of endocytosis that no one realized existed. Sulfated GAGs also are involved with helping to assemble gap junctions: a passageway that allows cells to share their inner substance through a channel built to connect them. As an example, gap junctions are involved with keeping the heart regulated or making the uterus contract all at the same time, and gap junctions also provide communication betweem neurons and glial cells.

Cellular Messaging

Sulfated molecules are also very involved with helping a cell to know about its environment, telling the cell information about when to grow, when to move, how far to move, when to differentiate, and it looks very probable that they are involved with telling a cell when it is time for that cell to die.

All of these messages get fouled up if, for some reason, the cell that made them ran out of sulfate when it was making those sugar chains. If your whole body ran out, life would be impossible, but this "running out" is like that last check you wrote on a depleted bank account, and you know how much damage can be done when those service charges start rolling in, but it is not always easy to know which check is going to be the one that bounces. When your systemic "account" of sulfate is low, your body might rob Peter to pay Paul, or there might be some organs where this lack would show up first, because the demands on this chemistry are higher there.

This disabling of signalling when sulfate is cut off has been demonstrated in study after study experimentally, but no one has thought to look for diseases where that might have happened. I suspect this lack of interest comes from the difficulty in studying something so distributed in effects in complicated creatures like us, as well as the fact that sulfated sugars are not part of the popular obsession of scientists today: involving proteins that are coded by DNA. Instead of being so involved in genetic issues, sulfation is more of an issue of how well your body is relating to things it encounters in the environment, or in more scientific lingo, it involves post-translational events.

Poor Sulfation in Autism

Dr. Rosemary Waring at the University of Birmingham in England, has discovered that sulfation problems are very typical of autism, and she studies sulfation in many other disease processes.

  • In one of her latest studies about autism, she found 92% of those with autism in her study did not use sulfate normally to detoxify.
  • In other studies she found that the problem must not have been a specific problem with the enzymes involved, but it seemed rather that the body was running out of enough sulfate.
  • She has been finding that very often, this seems to happen because sulfate is being dumped in the urine, instead of what ought to happen:
    • that is, becoming recovered in the kidneys and put back into circulation.
    • Unfortunately, that dumping will occur when the kidney itself becomes undersulfated, which makes the problem compound.
You can think of this situation as being similar to trying to keep a bowl full of water that has a big hole in the bottom. The lab results that show this will discover low plasma sulfate and high urinary sulfate and usually high urinary sulfite, as well.

Auto-immunity and Sulfites

Sulfite is one step "up" on the pathway to make sulfate from sulfur-containing amino acids. The last enzyme in that process is sulfite oxidase, and it can be impaired by several things, including infection (inflammation) or molybdenum deficiency, or even auto-immune attack.

If the ratio of your blood levels of sulfite compared to sulfate are too high, an impairment of sulfite oxidase should be suspected.
If your levels of cysteine in the blood are high, and the cysteine to sulfate ratio is also high, it may mean that there is such a load on your sulfate requirement (maybe from having too much to detoxify) that it appears your cells just cannot keep up with sulfate manufacture from


That is why using epsom salts, in which sulfur is already made into a sulfate ion, can bypass any detours you may be experiencing along the sulfate pathway.

Plasma Membrane and Mercury Toxicity

Something else can go wrong.

Sulfate has to have a special transporter to cross membranes. The cell has a big membrane that surrounds the whole thing, and that is called the plasma membrane, but there is far more membrane inside the cell than outside.

Every time sulfate needs to cross a membrane in the cell or on the outside, it has to be escorted through one of these transporters.

Speculation about Benefits of Chelation
Mercury can completely block those transporters, as shown by testing on live cells. I feel it is quite likely that those who have been getting better using chelation are seeing improvements in their sulfate transport because the mercury that may have been blocking transport in the kidneys, is now out of the way, and so the children are now able to retain more sulfate.
Where poor transport would be quite critical is both in the gut (where you should absorb sulfate from the diet) or in the kidneys, which will dump sulfate in the urine when the sulfate transporters are blocked and for other reasons, like acidosis.

Other Medical Uses

Indications for its use are:

  • Replacement therapy for hypomagnesemia.
  • Magnesium sulfate is the first-line antiarrhythmic agent for Torsades de pointes in cardiac arrest under the 2005 ECC guidelines as well as managing Quinidine-induced arrythmias.
  • As a bronchodilator after beta-agonist and anticholinergic agents have been tried, e.g. in severe exacerbations of asthma.[3] Recent studies have revealed that magnesium sulfate can be nebulized to reduce the symptoms of acute asthma.[3] It is commonly administered via the intravenous route for the management of severe asthma attacks.
  • Users of Epsom salt in the gel form have reported significant and lasting reduction of pain associated with fibromyalgia and osteoporosis.
  • A 2004 research study showed that both magnesium and sulfate are absorbed through the skin when bathing in 1% solution.[4]
  • Magnesium sulfate can be used to treat eclampsia in pregnant women.[5]
  • Magnesium sulfate can also delay labor in the case of premature labor, to delay preterm birth.Template:Fact
  • Intravenous magnesium sulfate may be able to prevent cerebral palsy in preterm babies.[6]
  • Solutions of sulfate salts such as Epsom salt may be given as first aid for Barium chloride poisoning.
  • Magnesium sulfate paste has been used as an agent for dehydrating (drawing) boils, carbuncles and abscesses.Template:Fact
  • Magnesium sulfate solution has also been shown to be an effective aid in the fight against blemishes and acne when applied directly to problematic areas, usually in poultice form.Template:Fact
  • Magnesium sulfate when used through soaking, can soothe muscle pains and help improve rough patches in the skin.Template:Fact
  • The body's magnesium level increases when soaking with magnesium sulfate which is necessary for serotonin, a mood-regulating neurotransmitter that may increase feelings of relaxation and well-being.[7]
  • Soaking in a warm bath containing Epsom Salt (magnesium sulfate) can be beneficial to soothe and relieve Herpes outbreak symptoms, such as itching and lesions relating to Genital Herpes and Shingles.[8][9]



  1. 1.0 1.1 WiseGeek
  2. http://www.enzymestuff.com/epsomsalts.htm
  3. 3.0 3.1 Blitz M, Blitz S, Hughes R, Diner B, Beasley R, Knopp J, Rowe BH. Aerosolized magnesium sulfate for acute asthma: a systematic review. Chest 2005;128:337-44. PMID 16002955.
  4. Rosemary Waring Absorption of magnesium sulphate through the skin (republished by the Epsom Salt Council), 2004
  5. BBC News story 'Simple jab averts pregnancy danger' [1] 30 May 2002
  6. Epsom salt can prevent cerebral palsy: U.S. study
  7. "Epsom Salt Industry Council - About Epsom Salt - The Science of Epsom Salt" Epsom Salt Council
  8. "Herpes Home Remedies" Herpes and Cold Sores Support Network
  9. "McKinley Health Center - Genital Herpes - University of Illinois" McKinley Health Center, University of Illinois
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