Epsom salt (Magnesium sulfate) is one of the most inexpensive natural healing agents that one can buy at the grocery store. This is a timeless treatment that my own grandmother used for a laundry list of ailments and injuries during the 98 years of her life. I am a member of an amazing Facebook group called the Crunchy Moms of SA. You can bet if someone asks a question to the group about a regular sick kid a following comment will mention Epsom salt baths. I love intuitive medicine. In addition, I have this science nerd that lives in my head and always wants to know well now how does that work exactly?
It is very interesting that for more than a century folks have claimed a detoxification effect from Epsom salts. Recently there has been much debate about the data on the common methylation defects that are emerging from the human genome project, specifically on the many MTHFR SNPs. These folks, myself now included, have many associated vitamin defects. These single nucleotide polymorphisms can lead to any combination of calcium, magnesium (Mg), zinc, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), glutathione, iron and vitamins B1, B2, B12, D and folate deficiencies. Methylation is not only important for our vitamin synthesis. It is one of the bodies main avenues of detoxification and to make matters worse many of these vitamins act as co-factors and regulators in the processes. Way back in 1992, Molecular and Cellular Biology published an article where Mg deficient rats had significantly elevated inflammatory markers (IL-1, IL-6, TNF-α) and went on to develop significant cardiac lesions. Current research has expanded the role of magnesium as anti-inflammatory and immune modulator. So what does this gobbledygook have to do with Epsom salt and your kid?
For a kid with a typical short-lived virus (fever <72hrs) and its associated acute cytokine driven inflammation an Epsom salt bath can provide a safe anti-inflammatory effect via magnesium’s effect on the cascade. For a kid with any combination of MTHFR SNPs and an impaired ability to clear drugs this type of bath is a safer way to gently bring down a temperature and relieve the suffering of inflammation. Also there is the extra bonus that the bit of magnesium absorbed can safely bring them towards better cellular levels and immune function.
I like the skin as a barrier and filter for supplementing children. Oral supplementation is tricky and often requires bloodwork to be done properly. Where in a bath the skin acts as a filter so that too much magnesium is not absorbed too quickly causing side effects or disrupting calcium balance. Adults are to add 1-2 cups of Epsom salt to a bath and to soak for 10-20 min. A small child is to use proportionately less. I usually recommend a measured ½ cup to a full bath. Using too much Epsom, too little water, staying in too long, or doing this too often can result in lethargy and diarrhea. I want to add this warning. Though many of us already have learned the hard way not to put a kid with diarrhea in any sort of bath, for first time parents trust me don’t do it. A shower is a better choice. Especially do not put them into an Epsom salt bath as the absorption of the magnesium will worsen the diarrhea. Magnesium is a well-known laxative. For children under 1 year of age I would consult with your provider.
My grandmother passed away this past year. I can feel her presence as I write this particular blog. The same woman that taught me the incredible beauty of maternal intuition and common sense also taught me to question everything. This article is very much in her honor.