Joined: 19 Feb 2003
Location: Norfolk, VA
|Posted: Mon Jan 31, 2005 9:25 pm Post subject: Epsom Salts - By Susan Owens
|Here is an all time great post from Susan Owens posted to the email@example.com list
Epsom Salt Baths
Information compiled by Mary Wetherby, with editing and research
information provided courtesy of Susan Owens. This information may
be shared with families and professionals, but please do not use it
in a part of a larger document/paper without obtaining written
What are Epsom Salts?
Epsom Salts are the same thing as Magnesium Sulfate, which is a salt
made of only magnesium and sulphate (and maybe a little bit of
water). Magnesium is a positively charged ion, and it binds to
sulfate, which is a negatively charged ion. Sulfate is a sulphur
atom surrounded by four oxygen atoms.
You can buy them at your local drugstore or pharmacy or even in the
grocery store. They are usually located in larger bags near the
bandages or the foot care section (in a pinch, smaller containers can
be found in the laxative aisle, but it is cheaper to buy them in the
What is the anticipated effect from an Epsom Salt bath?
Epsom Salts have long been used to stimulate detoxification, reduce
inflammation to sore muscles, promote healthy circulation, and help
with relaxation and normalizing sleep patterns.
Most children respond to an ES bath by appearing happier, more
relaxed. Some parents report that their children are more
responsive, more "with it". Some parents who give the bath in the
evenings report that their children are able to get to sleep easier,
and have a more normal sleep pattern.
Given over time, the ES baths may help reduce sensory integration
symptoms. Some of this effect may occur due to benefits of
detoxification, but it is much more likely to come from direct
effects on the nervous system.
Why do they work? And Why is sulfation important?
One benefit of the ES baths is linked to an enzyme system known as
phenolsulfotransferase or PST. Dr. Rosemary Waring researched this
and found that in 92% of the autistic children tested, PST was
functioning at below optimal levels. This enzyme, like all other
sulfotransferases, has to use a modified form of sulfate: not the
form it takes in the bathtub. This change occurs inside your cells
by adding the molecules adenosine and phosphate to sulfate before any
sulfotransferase enzyme can use it. The molecular additions are said
to turn sulfate into its "activated form". If you think about it,
none of this can be happening in the bathtub: it is happening in
your body after sulfate is absorbed through the skin and after a
complicated interplay of enzymes. It is not going to happen
spontaneously, no matter how much sulfate you have around.
When PST has enough activated sulfate to use, it will then attach the
sulfate part of that molecule to molecules called phenols. In most
cases, adding sulfate sets up those molecules for excretion in the
urine, but it can actually activate other molecules.
When there is a deficiency of sulfate inside your cells, phenols may
build up. In the brain and nervous system this may interfere with
neurotransmitter function since many neurotransmitters are phenolic,
too. For instance, there is actually a form of PST called
catecholamine sulfotransferase or M-PST which acts on
neurotransmitters. Other sulfotransferases act on hormones and
proteins and carbohydrates of certain sorts.
Again, epsom salts are believed to help PST by providing the much-
sulfate to the child's body, by being absorbed transdermally (through
the skin) during the bath. The body is full of other
sulfotransferases that need sulfate to be much more concentrated than
what PST likes. These other sulfotransferases, among other jobs,
help form the extracellular nets around certain neurons, and regulate
things like axon guidance and neurons sending out processes to make
The gastrointestinal system especially needs a lot of sulfate. A
diferrent sulfotransferase enzyme called TPST uses sulfate to
activate two major gut enzymes. In animal studies the GI system
takes as much sulfate out of the blood as the liver puts into the
blood, so epsom salts are likely to mostly nourish the gut and spare
the liver the job of making sulfate from scratch from the amino acid
But how does this produce neurological improvements?
Detoxification is only a little part of sulfate's job. Most of the
body's sulfate is used to form huge molecules that govern chemical
traffic at the cell surface. Many of these sulfated molecules find
their more enduring home in the area immediately around the cell
called the extracellular matrix. [Extracellular = outside the cell]
These sulfated molecules function in all cell types. However, in the
brain, this type of molecule has a very special role, providing
modulation, or something like a volume control. It does this by
forming a geometric net outside particular types of neurons.
The sulfate in these molecules is no longer in an ionic form, like
you see in epsom salts in the bathtub, but is part of highly
organized structures that will attract, bind and regulate many of the
ions that are involved in cell signalling before those ions even get
to the surface of neurons or to ion channels.
You haven't heard about this from your neurologist because research
function of this type of molecule has been done mainly in the last
decade, and in the last year or two, especially. Even so, there are
pictures of these nets around neurons that were drawn by scientists
more than a hundred years ago before they knew what they were made
of. Nobody thought they did anything!
What seems particularly relevant is that the nets are abundant and
function in the auditory system, the somatosensory system, the
vestibular system, the cerebellum, and in almost half of the cranial
nerves. They even seem important for developing trunk strength.
You may recognize these systems as the parts of the nervous system
that are targeted by sensory integration therapy. Interestingly, the
nets won't form properly in the brain without two things happening at
the same time: adequate biochemical resources, and continued rapid
firing of the relevant nerves. This argues favorably for coupling
biochemical therapies that support this chemistry with the physical
and educational approaches that are also known to offer benefits to
If you want to know more about the biochemical side of this, you can
paper written by Susan Owens who has studied the sulfated molecules
GAGs) for seven years. Her paper reviewing this area is part of a
book that is sold by the Autism Research Unit in Sunderland: The
Proceedings of their 2001 conference in Durham, England. See
What are the potential long-term benefits of continued use?
After using epsom salts on a regular basis, children may have
improvements with language, behavior, mood, and physical skills.
What if my child gets agitated?
Very few children may seem more agitated after the initial bath, or
several baths later. It is not known why this happens, but it is easy
to deal with. Just cut back on the baths for a few days and then
begin again, but with a much smaller amount of ES-perhaps a teaspoon,
and work up the amount very slowly. Also, you may see if the child
reacts to magnesium by trying it in a different form orally.
Kirkman Laboratories "Guide To Intestinal Health" booklet discusses
how impaired sulfation process can lead to a decreased production of
peptides, and bile acids, which are important to digestive function,
and lead to problems with maldigestion and malabsorption. Sulfation
is also important to the intestinal lining. Over time, decreased
sulfation can allow small portions of the gut wall to be exposed,
creating the "Leaky Gut" which is suspect in allergies, asthma, and
other neurobehavioral disorders. Sulfate's relative absense from the
esophagus may be what makes reflux hurt so much.
Okay, I think we'll try the baths—what do I need and how much Epsom
Salt, and for how long?
The amount and frequency can vary from child to child. Some parents
prefer to use as much as 2 cups of ES in a bathtub of water, allowing
the child to be in the tub for around 20 minutes, on a daily basis.
Some parents prefer to do the baths every few days, some prefer every
week. As mentioned before, if your child is one of the rare few who
seem to get agitated by the bath, then simply cut back on the amount
of salt used (my son was one of these kids and we dropped back to a
teaspoon and worked up gradually to about ¼ to ½ a cup).
What are other ways to employ Epsom Salts for sulfation benefits?
Some parents prefer to mix the ES with water and keep it in a spray
bottle and spray their kids during the day. As it dries, it leaves a
white residue that you can leave on for more of a "timed-release"
effect if it is tolerated. Others have found ways to make ES oil or
lotion. Please join the Enzymes and Autism Yahoo! Group for recipes
on how to make it into an oil or lotion. Instead of a bath, some
parents give their child a foot soak while they are eating or doing
something else. Kirkman Laboratories at www.kirkmanlabs.com sells
an Epsom Salt cream that can be applied 1 to 3 times a day. It does
not leave a residue. I have been told that there are other ES
creams out there, but I haven't seen them in any stores yet. If
someone knows of another source, please add it to this file.
Q: I gave my child an epsom salt bath, and s/he seemed more hyper
and/or emotional afterwards. Is this related to the bath? Why would
my child react this way instead of having the "expected" results?
I think the trick here, which is important to know about, is that you
need to start slowly when introducing a supplement of something for
which you have been deficient a long time, and then slowly work up to
more. This is because, unlike drugs, where the quantity of a dose is
set by the doctor trying to obtain a blood level of something FOREIGN
to the body, introducing a supplement of something the body uses
every day works in a whole different way, and this can be generalized
to lots of things. I'll explain why.
Most chemical reactions happen inside cells after substances have
crossed over the cell's outer membrane. For things cells use
everyday, they have specific transporters and receptors that are
expressed on the cell surface in the quantity that is appropriate to
assure an appropriate supply to that cell type. Not all cells like
the same quantity. When everything works right, the inside of the
cell gets the appropriate quantity of what it needs of that
substance. The cell wants not too much and not too little and it
knows how to adjust the availability of that substance to the inside
of the cell when the supply outside the cell changes.
If the supply of something the body uses up every day has been low
awhile, the cell will upregulate the transporter or receptor that is
specific for that substance. Upregulation means it will put more of
these working molecules on the cell surface in order to increase the
odds that the substance will find its receptor or transporter.
When the supply has been high for a long time, the cell will also cut
back the quantity of the receptor or transporter on the cell surface.
Cells are very fluid like that: changing and adjusting constantly:
not like a machine at all! Your car doesn't increase the gas caps
when its fuel supply is low, but it doesn't have to gets its gas from
the passing parade by chance and kinetics...
So, if you have been deficient in sulfate for a long time, your cells
would have upregulated the transporters to make much of little. All
over the body, receptors that need sulfated ligands might have been
upregulated as well, trying to increase their signal or supply.
If you suddenly increase the quantity of sulfate that approaches the
cell by several fold, you can get too intense a signal, and that can
be overwhelming. That is why you should start slowly. This gives your
body's cells a chance to readjust to the new level they will be
seeing. We're not trying to overdo that level, but just to return it
to something normal.
Remember that cells are accustomed to biological rhythms that change
quantities of nutrients that cells see. This includes feeding
schedules and sleep. Cells don't make these adjustments on whim or
very quickly, for they know there will be long periods of time when
the supply gets lower just because it has been a long time since you
ate something. I would guess, for that reason, that cells tend to
adjust to conditions that may continue for at least a day or two.
The way this biology works gives me the suspicion that the children
the most hyper after their first epsom salts bath or baths may be the
children who have been the most deficient of this substance, and have
receptors and transporters dialed WAY up.
If you are deficient in supply, even when you have receptors or
transporters expressed at extremely high quantity, you still might be
low in quantity for the function you need. The increase of receptors
or transporters will help, but it isn't much of a solution long term.
If you get exposed to something that requires a lot of sulfate for
your body to detoxify (like phenols in fumes or foods or drugs), the
level of sulfate available for NORMAL functions will be hurting
temporarily as your body tries to recover from this demand. The loss
of the function of other molecules that use sulfate for normal
function is likely what is producing symptoms: not your body feeling
toxic as if it had just been "burned" by the substance your body was
trying to detoxify. That sort of injury might take longer and it
would probably be more subtle, anyway. If you are having neurological
reactions, you are probably seeing an adjustment in the neurological
chemistry which is feeling shorted and may be overwhelmed with sudden
Of course, you really need an appropriate supply of sulfate, but the
story of HOW the supply got low in the first place can be very
different from child to child, and involve organs like the kidneys,
the liver and the GI tract and systems like the immune system.
Anyway, as an example of this sort of mechanism with an entirely
different substance, I'll tell you a little about the secretin story.
This sort of receptor-quantity issue was suspected to be happening in
the children with autism who were given IV secretin. In response to
the same dose that had a predictable response in normal people, those
with autism instead put out huge quantities of pancreatic fluid.
Their response was intense on the very same dose that other patients
were getting without experiencing this overexuberant response.
Why? The sudden increase in secretin was more of a surprise for the
of autistic children than it was for the other children with GI
problems being tested. The pancreas was OVER responsive to secretin
probably because this was the first good supply of secretin that it
had gotten in a long time. Scientists suspected that the amount of
secretin these children had been producing on their own had been low
for a long time. I hope all this makes sense. Your body makes
secretin, but it also makes sulfate from the amino acids cysteine and
methionine. There may be a reason this isn't happening appropriately.
I've heard of parents starting with as little as a teaspoon in the
bathwater and working up. You can also apply the solution topically,
and can control the quantity by how much surface of the skin you
cover. The half-life of sulfate in the blood is 4-9 hours.
At any rate, please do not interpret this [emotional/hyper reaction]
to mean the epsom salts were the wrong thing...it may mean exactly
the opposite! Normal people do not have any response to epsom salts
baths except maybe to feel relaxed later! They don't get hyper or
If you have already tried reducing the quantity of epsom salts
drastically and slowly increasing the quantity, and it doesn't work
to reduce this hyper or emotional response, I'd be glad to talk to
you offlist about what else it might mean.
Anyway, I hope this helps. You've just got to think like a cell
Joined: 08 Apr 2005
|Posted: Sat Apr 09, 2005 8:51 pm Post subject:
|Wow! Thanks for sharing this. I think I will try this with my son.
Joined: 19 Feb 2003
Location: Norfolk, VA
Joined: 02 Oct 2005
|Posted: Wed Dec 21, 2005 1:14 am Post subject: wow
|I would never have thought about anything like that, anyone using this method? or have tried it? what kind of response did you get from it? what was your child like before and after? I believe Billy has sensory issues but have yet to have a doc. say anything to me, and it would be so nice to get him into some kind of regular sleep pattern, and to have him calm down and be less aggressive with his younger sisters, although I do think that his aggression towards his sisters is related to his speech problems and also them passing him up in alot of areas. any input on this would be wonderful.
Joined: 02 Jul 2005
|Posted: Wed Dec 21, 2005 8:06 am Post subject: Weighted vests
I always thought weighted vests seemed cruel. However my opnion has changed. When used it helps to bring calm and focus to my son.
Have you evere tried this?
Joined: 19 Feb 2003
Location: Norfolk, VA
|Posted: Mon May 22, 2006 8:00 pm Post subject: weighted products
|We used a weighted vest for a while and have used weighted things more informally too (had my son carry books across the room for homework breaks, had him pull a wagon around the halls of the clinic before starting speech therapy, etc) Let me tell you! the performance on his homework, therapy etc was so much better when we incorporated some sort of "heavy work" into his routine!
Joined: 10 Jul 2005
|Posted: Tue May 23, 2006 8:51 am Post subject:
I'm glad to see someone still posting , it's been too quiet here.
I love the weighted vests. I also use backpacks. I make sure that when we walk home from school, he wears his backpack all the way. Christopher sometimes likes to try and pass it off to me!
I also try to get in as much weight during the day as i can. I made a tape when he was about 2 yrs old that is used in classes and conferences for ot's.
In the tape he was having an absolute meltdown. I put the vest on and in 30 seconds he was calm and engaged in play. It really is something to see.
I hope all is well, take care
Joined: 19 Feb 2003
Location: Norfolk, VA
|Posted: Fri May 26, 2006 11:38 am Post subject: weighted vest
|WOW! That is amazing. The vest (and other weighed products) are great when used appropriately. I think sensory strategies are being more widely accepted in schools and otherwise, or maybe that is wishful thinking.
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