In the early 17th century a herd of cattle refused to drink water from a certain water spring in the town of Epsom in Surrey, England. It was later discovered to have contained ‘Magnesium Sulfate’, a salt with a bitter taste and remarkable healing properties.
The salt was named as “Epsom salt” and has been used as a remedy for many ailments for over hundreds of years.
According to Dr Ananda Chandrasekara, Senior Lecturer, Department of Applied Nutrition, Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, there are various benefits and side effects of Epsom salt, even though some of them are yet to be proven scientifically.
“Epsom salt is mainly used as a laxative to help with constipation and detoxification. 5 to 10g of Epsom salt dissolved in water is taken orally as a remedy for constipation,” Dr Chandrasekara explained.
“Epsom salt is also used as a bath salt. And although there is not much science behind it, it has been identified as a pain and stress reliever. Adding a few teaspoons of Epsom salt into warm bath water can help in obtaining a good night’s sleep and you can also wake up refreshed”.This bath salt method is also used as a remedy for insomnia as many people have found it has helped them sleep well. Dr Chandrasekara further stated that there have been certain indications that Epsom salt carries positive effects as an anti-inflammatory agent. “A warm bath with Epsom salt can soothe infections, swelling and inflammation in the body and therefore this method is used in treating wounds and infections,” Dr Chandrasekara explained. “It has also been used to aid weight-loss. However, there is not much evidence confirming it.”
“It also helps athletes to improve their exercise performance and recovery after heavy workload. I must say this isn’t scientifically proven. However, it has been practiced as a strategy for many years in different countries, including England,” he added. Magnesium sulfate is also used as an intravenous injection (along with saline), as a treatment for asthma patients. It acts as a bronchodilator, relaxing the bronchial muscles thus making it easier to breathe.
According to Dr Chandrasekara, Epsom salt has also been widely used to control eclampsia during pregnancy, certain kidney problems and arthritis.
“Most people with arthritis use baths as a tactic to relieve the pain and swelling. Although the mechanism has not been fully explored, there aren’t enough effective medications to bring relief to arthritis associated problems. Therefore, soaking in a warm bath with Epsom salt will not be a problem,” Dr Chandrasekara stated.
In the mainstream medical practice, Epsom salt has been approved as a laxative to treat constipation.
The usage of Epsom salt is a common strategy which has succeeded in providing relief to various ailments, although it lacks adequate scientific evidence. Therefore, it is an effective folk remedy similar to ‘Kottamalli’ which helps relieve the cold.
“We cannot recommend oral use of Epsom salt other than its use as a laxative for treating constipation, as it can be quite harmful and cause severe complications such as difficulty in breathing, loss of reflexes, low blood pressure and even death,” Dr Chandrasekara explained.