Can Epsom Salt Help Anxiety?

Epsom salt

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Magnesium sulfate, more commonly known as Epsom salt, has been used medicinally as early as 1618 to treat a wide range of conditions, including muscle pain, heart arrhythmia, asthma, pregnancy complications, and constipation.

In addition to these benefits, research has found magnesium may be helpful for some individuals as a natural treatment for anxiety, although more comprehensive studies are needed.

What Are Epsom Salts?

Magnesium sulfate is a chemical compound consisting of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen, with the formula MgSO4.  The name “Epsom salt” refers to a bitter saline spring in Epsom in Surrey, England, where it was first discovered.

Magnesium plays a vital role in the structures and functions of the human body and is involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions. An adult body contains about 25 grams of magnesium, with about 50%-60% of magnesium found in the skeleton. The remainder is found in soft tissue, primarily in muscle.

Natural Remedy for Anxiety

According to a systematic review of 18 studies published in Nutrients, one of the reasons why magnesium can help reduce anxiety is that it may improve brain function. Research shows that magnesium plays an important role in regulating neurotransmitters, which send messages throughout the brain and body.

Magnesium is also believed to affect a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which helps regulate the pituitary and adrenal glands. These glands are responsible for your response to stress.

Another study from France evaluated 264 patients with generalized anxiety disorder and found a statistically significant number of them reported improvements by taking magnesium combined with two plant extracts.

A magnesium deficiency can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety. Therefore, once magnesium supplements eliminate this deficiency, anxiety becomes more manageable.

In individuals with magnesium deficiency, stress may increase the risk of many health conditions, including heart disease. Furthermore, stress, whether physical stress (including heat, cold, exertion, trauma, or surgery), emotional stress (including excitement, anxiety, or depression), actually increases the body’s need for magnesium 

Researchers have long known that there is a relationship between anxiety and depression, as many people with depression also suffer from anxiety. Magnesium sulfate has been successfully used to treat depression as far back as 1921. There is an inverse correlation in adults between magnesium intake and psychiatric states such as anxiety and depression.

Magnesium is needed as a coenzyme to convert tryptophan to serotonin, a neurotransmitter recognized as a major determinant of mental health and mood. Research suggests that magnesium supplementation may help prevent depression and may be useful as adjuvant therapy. However, research has found no effect on postpartum anxiety.

Magnesium is necessary for the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. Studies have found supplementation with magnesium may be useful for treating insomnia and other sleep disorders.

The quality of existing research on the effects of magnesium on anxiety is generally lacking. Well-designed randomized controlled trials are required to further confirm the efficacy of magnesium supplementation for anxiety.

Is Magnesium Absorbed Through the Skin?

Transdermal magnesium, which is administered through the skin (such as with a bath or soak), has not yet been scientifically proven to be effective. Therefore, future research should focus on a larger number of human subjects given higher concentrations of, for example, a magnesium cream application administered for longer durations.

While topical absorption is debated, numerous studies demonstrate the effectiveness of oral therapeutic or preventive magnesium supplementation. Magnesium supplementation is also useful when taking drugs such as diuretics and proton pump inhibitors.

Other Benefits

Insufficient magnesium has been linked to a host of clinical conditions, a not surprising finding considering the required role magnesium plays in hundreds of essential biochemical reactions. There is good evidence for the use of supplemental magnesium for:

Magnesium should also be considered as an adjunct for depression, attention deficit disorder, prevention of cataracts, and a number of other conditions.

How to Use It

There are a number of ways to use magnesium sulfate, through warm baths, supplements, or topical treatments.

Epsom Salt Bath

Many people agree soaking in an Epsom salt bath improves their mood due to boosting the body’s magnesium levels. However, as reported previously, this has never been substantiated. So, while taking a warm Epsom salt bath can be soothing, the effects appear to be psychological more than anything else.

Here’s a simple recipe for making safe, homemade bath salt using Epsom salt and another for enjoying a relaxing soak:

  • Bath crystals: Mix 2 cups of Epsom salt with a few drops of your favorite fragrance to create a custom bath crystal. Add a few drops of food coloring or 1/2 teaspoon of glycerin if you like, mix thoroughly and store in an air-tight container.
  • Soaking solution: Add 2 cups of Epsom salt to the water in a standard-sized bathtub; soak for at least 12 minutes, three times weekly. For an extra treat, add a few drops of eucalyptus oil for a refreshing scent.

The water should be very warm—not hot, but comfortable to the touch. You should add the Epsom salt while the water is running to help it dissolve.

Supplements

Many people wonder if the Epsom salt in oral magnesium supplements are the same thing as the Epsom salt used for baths. Epsom salt itself contains nothing but the naturally occurring minerals magnesium and sulfate. Bath salt, however, may contain other ingredients as part of a proprietary blend.

Magnesium sulfate found in oral supplements and that used for bathing are not the same thing.

Magnesium supplements are available in a variety of forms, including magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, and magnesium chloride. Absorption of magnesium from different kinds of magnesium supplements varies. Forms of magnesium that dissolve well in liquid are more completely absorbed in the gut than less soluble forms.

Small studies have found that magnesium in the aspartate, citrate, lactate, and chloride forms is absorbed more completely and is more bioavailable than magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate.

One study found that very high doses of zinc from supplements (142 mg/day) can interfere with magnesium absorption and disrupt the magnesium balance in the body.

The recommended intake level for supplemental magnesium for an adult male is 350 mg daily, 267 mg for an adult female. However, most Americans do not get enough magnesium from their diets, which, as was mentioned previously, can create a range of health problems.

As with any supplement, people should check with their doctor before starting a magnesium regimen.

Other Uses

Since magnesium plays a major role in hundreds of biochemical functions throughout the body, it’s not surprising that it is used to treat or prevent a number of medical conditions. They include:

  • Asthma
  • Osteoporosis
  • Muscle cramps
  • Pregnancy complications (preeclampsia/eclampsia treated intravenously)
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Migraine headaches
  • Metabolic syndrome/diabetes mellitus
  • Sleep disorders/restless leg syndrome
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Glaucoma/cataracts

In medicine, magnesium sulfate can also be injected to treat certain medical conditions, such as hypomagnesemia (low levels of magnesium in the blood) and seizures in pregnancy due to pre-eclampsia or eclampsia. The magnesium sulfate is injected into a muscle or administered intravenously in a clinic or hospital setting.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, has advised healthcare professionals against using magnesium sulfate injection for more than five to seven days to stop pre-term labor in pregnancy. This use of the drug is off-label, which means that it is not an FDA-approved use of the drug.

Administration of magnesium sulfate injection to people who are pregnant for longer than this period may lead to low calcium levels and bone problems in the developing baby or fetus, including osteopenia and fractures.

Possible Side Effects

Too much magnesium from food does not pose a health risk in healthy individuals because the kidneys eliminate excess amounts in the urine. However, high doses of magnesium from dietary supplements or medications often result in diarrhea that can be accompanied by nausea and abdominal cramping.

Very large doses of magnesium-containing laxatives and antacids (typically more than 5,000 mg/day magnesium) have been associated with magnesium toxicity, including fatal hypermagnesemia (elevated levels of magnesium in the blood) in a 28-month-old boy and an elderly man.

In addition to diarrhea, magnesium overdose symptoms can include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Facial flushing
  • Urine retention
  • Depression
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Irregular heartbeat

The risk of magnesium toxicity increases with impaired renal function or kidney failure because the ability to remove excess magnesium is reduced or lost.

A Word From Verywell

Magnesium sulfate, or Epsom salt, can be beneficial to some people with anxiety but more comprehensive research is needed. While Epsom salt baths can help calm stress, there is no conclusive evidence that magnesium absorbed through the skin is beneficial.

High doses of magnesium from dietary supplements or medications can result in diarrhea that can be accompanied by nausea and abdominal cramping. People should check with their doctor before starting a magnesium regimen.

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Article Sources
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