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Magnesium sulfate — How to use it as a supplement

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Magnesium-rich foods

Story at-a-glance -

  • Magnesium sulfate, commonly known as Epsom salt, is generally used to boost magnesium levels in your body
  • Discover the other ways you can utilize magnesium sulfate to benefit your health

Magnesium is a mineral that comes from the soil1 and is present in various foods. It plays an important role in proper health because it is a cofactor in over 300 enzyme systems that are responsible for various biological processes, such as:2

  • Protein synthesis3
  • Muscle and nerve function4
  • Blood pressure regulation5
  • Blood sugar control6
  • Energy production7
  • Transportation of sodium and potassium into cell membranes8

It's clear that magnesium is an essential mineral that everyone should sufficiently have. Sadly, this is not the case for most Americans. It's estimated that almost half of Americans9,10 are not getting enough magnesium from their diet and are at risk of deficiency, which can lead to various health-related problems.

The many symptoms of magnesium deficiency

Magnesium deficiency is a serious cause of concern among Americans today. If your body lacks this mineral, you may develop conditions such as:11

  • Blood clots16
  • Heart disease
  • Tooth decay
  • Osteoporosis
  • Hypoglycemia

Quite simply, your best way to counteract the dangers of magnesium deficiency is to increase your intake of magnesium-rich foods.

Food sources of magnesium

Magnesium can be conveniently increased through your diet. There are many magnesium-rich foods you can eat and enjoy regularly to help optimize your health, such as:

  • Avocado 29 milligrams per 100 grams17
  • Atlantic mackerel — 76 milligrams per 100 grams18
  • Banana 27 milligrams per 100 grams19
  • Pumpkin and squash seeds — 262 milligrams per 100 grams20
  • Spinach 79 milligrams per 100 grams21

Aside from getting your magnesium from foods, taking magnesium supplements can boost your magnesium levels. However, supplements can be very confusing if you're unfamiliar with them. For example, there are different types of magnesium supplements, such as magnesium chloride, magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate and magnesium sulfate.

The reason for this is because pure magnesium is not easily absorbed by the body, so it must be bound to a carrier substance. All of these products use different carriers depending on the intended purpose and how bioavailable they are. Bioavailability is the amount of magnesium that can be absorbed in your digestive system for your body to use.22

Remember that when it comes to increasing magnesium, getting it through your diet is the healthiest approach. Supplements may work, but relying on them too much may cause digestive problems because increased magnesium levels have laxative effects.23 If you still want to try this approach, though, one magnesium supplement you can try is magnesium sulfate, also known as Epsom salt.

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Studies regarding the benefits of magnesium sulfate

One of the main benefits of magnesium sulfate is its potential ability to boost the overall amount of magnesium in your body. To do this, magnesium sulfate is typically dissolved in bathwater, allowing your skin to absorb the substance.24 It may also be taken as a capsule depending on the user's preference.25

In a study conducted at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., 19 healthy participants were asked to soak in magnesium sulfate baths for 12 minutes, and their magnesium levels were measured afterward through blood and urine samples. Results indicated that most of the subjects had increased magnesium concentrations in their plasma, and that consistent bathing increased the concentration further.26

Magnesium sulfate has other uses aside from increasing magnesium levels in the blood. Here are other practical applications of this substance:

Treatment for preeclampsia — Preeclampsia is a complication that may occur during pregnancy. It is marked by high blood pressure, abnormal function of organs and excess protein in the urine.27

To help treat preeclampsia, magnesium sulfate can be administered intravenously to help reduce the risk of seizures in the mother's body, and is actually one of the most common methods used for those who develop this condition.28 Dosages are strictly controlled in a hospital setting to minimize further complications.29

Relief from constipation — Magnesium supplements are commonly taken for their laxative effect, and magnesium sulfate has been found to be helpful in this regard. Research suggests that magnesium helps improve bowel movements by pulling more water from your body into the colon.30 After taking a dosage, bowel movement should occur within 30 minutes to six hours.31

Ease asthma symptoms — Asthma is a respiratory condition defined by breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing and chest tightness.32 If this condition becomes severe, magnesium sulfate may be administered to provide immediate relief by inducing relaxation in the bronchial smooth muscles.33

Research suggests that the muscle-relaxing properties of magnesium work by inhibiting calcium influx into the cytosol.34

Improved muscle recovery — Research has shown that magnesium may benefit muscle recovery after intense physical activity. According to a study in Magnesium Research, magnesium is responsible for oxygen uptake, energy production and electrolyte balance.

Furthermore, evidence suggests that even a slight deficiency in magnesium can already amplify the negative effects of strenuous exercise, such as oxidative stress. Therefore, increasing magnesium intake may help improve physical activity and recovery.35

Better cognitive function — Magnesium deficiency has been linked to various neurological pathologies such as migraines, depression, epilepsy, stroke, traumatic brain and spinal injuries and Parkinson's disease.36

To help prevent the loss of brain function, magnesium sulfate may be utilized. According to a rodent study published in PLoS One, administration of magnesium sulfate in rats helped increase magnesium levels in the brain, as well as reverse impairments in long-term potentiation. In addition, insulin sensitivity had improved.37

Who should not take magnesium sulfate?

Taking a magnesium sulfate supplement may benefit your health, however it may also introduce sudden changes in your system. Before you even consider taking a magnesium sulfate product, be sure to consult with your doctor, especially if you are dealing with kidney disease.38

Pregnant women should not take magnesium sulfate supplements without their physician's advice. Furthermore, it is not known if magnesium sulfate can pass into breastmilk, so before taking the supplement after giving birth, consult with your doctor for safety reasons.39

Side effects of magnesium sulfate you should know

While published studies have suggested that magnesium sulfate can optimize your health, there's still a chance that you may experience side effects. Reported side effects include:40,41

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Heart disturbances
  • Weakness
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sleepiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • A feeling like you may pass out

While there are many side effects indicated, not all of them are alarming and do not require medical attention. However, if you experience the more severe effects, such as a drop in blood pressure, anxiety attacks and heart disturbances, stop taking magnesium sulfate and visit a doctor immediately.

An important reminder before taking magnesium sulfate

While it looks like magnesium sulfate can help you, don't just simply load up on it all the time. Too much magnesium in your body can result in hypermagnesemia, a condition that causes dangerous side effects like low blood pressure, respiratory paralysis and abnormal cardiac conduction.42

To prevent the effects of hypermagnesemia, you need to increase your intake of calcium as well. Ideally, your calcium to magnesium ratio should be 1-to-1. The muscle-relaxing properties of magnesium balance out with the muscle-contraction properties of calcium.43

Consumption of vitamin K2 should also be increased alongside calcium as well because it helps direct calcium into the parts where it is needed the most, such as the bones and teeth. Without vitamin K2, arterial calcification can occur.44

Frequently asked questions about magnesium sulfate

Q: Is magnesium sulfate soluble?

A: Yes, magnesium sulfate is a soluble substance, especially in water.45

Q: What does magnesium sulfate do?

A: Magnesium sulfate, also known as Epsom salt, increases the magnesium levels in your body, which may help avoid deficiency. Studies also found that it can help with a variety of conditions such as preeclampsia,46 digestive health, muscle repair and pain relief.47

Q: Is magnesium sulfate flammable?

A: Magnesium sulfate is not a flammable substance.48 However, it may release toxic or irritating fumes when exposed to a fire.49

Q: Is magnesium sulfate safe?

A: Magnesium sulfate is considered generally safe. However, as with other supplements, it may introduce undesirable side effects. Commonly reported problems include diarrhea, nausea, headache and lightheadedness. Be sure to consult with a doctor before taking magnesium sulfate, or any other form of magnesium supplements for that matter.50

+ Sources and References