Epsom Salt Baths - what and why?
31st January 2019 / Health
Epsom Salt Baths - what and why?
Epsom salt baths are a favourite amongst many athletes renowned for their ability to relax and soothe sore muscles and even help relieve muscle cramps. But what exactly is "Epsom Salt" and are its benefits even proven?
Epsom salt refers to the sulphate mineral epsomite form of the inorganic salt: Magnesium sulfate; MgSO4.7H2O, named after the town it was originally discovered in - Epsom, Surrey. Epsom salts have a wide variety of uses from the more traditional use as a main component of bath salts to acting as an agricultural agent to help crop growth. This article will focus on the proposed health benefits of Epsom salts and their use in regards to our health and lifestyle.
Epsom salts have been added to baths for hundreds of years, famed for their ability to restore sore and cramping muscles and supposedly heal all kinds of ailments ranging from constipation to insomnia. People have long maintained that the salts offer whole body support and have the potential to induce detoxification in the body. When the salt is dissolved in water magnesium and sulphate ions are released and whilst there is no solid evidence that they can be absorbed through the skin, there is some evidence to suggest that Epsom salt baths have the ability to offer numerous, different health benefits.
1. Muscle relief
Magnesium is an essential mineral in the body and sufficient levels of magnesium are vital for the correct functioning of muscles.The majority of your body’s magnesium content is stored in your muscles and bones with less than 1% actually circulating in the bloodstream. Many people do not get enough magnesium through the food they eat and so often turn to magnesium supplements, which can be an easy and convenient way to ensure your body is receiving sufficient levels. Magnesium is directly involved with muscle tissues through ion transportation whereby the binding of magnesium allows other essential mineral ions (like calcium and potassium) to pass through. It is these ions that are involved in regulating muscle contraction and movement and consequently, when their levels are slightly altered, muscle cramps and soreness can be caused.
Calcium binds to proteins in muscles, changes the shape of these proteins and a contraction is generated. Magnesium acts as a natural calcium channel blocker in the body and competes with calcium for a receptor binding site in the muscles. When the level of magnesium in the body is too low, there is not enough to compete with the calcium and the muscles may contract too much - this could lead to cramping and spasms.
Magnesium is involved in the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system; the system that promotes calm and relaxation. It does this by regulating different neurotransmitters that act directly with the brain. One of these neurotransmitters is GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which is involved in the reduction of nerve activity and consequently enhances the potential to induce sleep and relaxation. This claimed health benefit is further evidenced by the fact that low and inadequate levels of magnesium have been linked to insomnia and difficulty sleeping (see study here)
There are firm supporters and also those who are sceptical about the benefits of Epsom salt baths. Although there may not be any firm scientific evidence for its effectiveness as a proven treatment of certain conditions, if it makes you feel better and seems to alleviate symptoms, even through a possible placebo effect, then there is definitely no harm in indulging yourself.
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