Even if your mother never mentioned it, surely your grandmother has told you that an Epsom salt foot soak was great for tired, aching feet. Grandmothers always know the best home remedies. And it may sound like an old wive’s tale, but the reason those old wives are still around to tell them is that they know which home remedies actually work.
Modern medicine has started taking a closer look at old folk remedies over the last 10 or 15 years. And the closer they look, the more we discover about uncomplicated and natural ways to treat the common discomforts of everyday life.
We’ll examine what current science has to say about this popular home remedy, and show you what it can really do for your tired feet and cramped toes. We may also bust a myth or two along the way.
What is Epsom Salt?
Named for a city in Surrey, England, Epsom salts are another name for the mineral magnesium sulfate. Magnesium is an essential mineral for treating muscle pain, and many nutritional experts say that a deficiency is more common than previously thought.
Many doctors and sports physiologists recommend magnesium sulfate for muscle cramps and sore muscle from overexertion. Many of them suggest that their patients take oral supplements. However, an Epsom salt foot soak targets the sore muscles in your feet, directly.
A study at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom showed that bathing in Epsom salts significantly increased the participant’s overall magnesium levels.
And why is this important? Along with its necessity for preventing diabetes, high blood pressure, and preterm labor and pre-eclampsia in pregnant mothers, magnesium is a vital component needed for the muscles to create energy and function properly.
Muscles use adenosine triphosphate, also known as ATP, as energy to contract and relax. However, it must bind to magnesium to become biologically active. ATP bound to calcium causes muscles to contract, while ATP bound to magnesium allows muscles to relax. As you might suspect, too little magnesium can result in painful muscle spasms that never seem to relax.
Why Magnesium Deficiency Is so Common
Although modern food processing has allowed more people to eat more food than ever before, much of it is food denuded of essential minerals. Many food manufacturers add vitamins and minerals to their packaged foods, but the need for higher levels of magnesium has only recently come to the attention of dietitians and nutritional experts.
Part of the problem is that many fresh fruits and vegetables grow in overworked fields sprayed with cheap fertilizer, which doesn’t replenish the magnesium levels. Many organic and home gardeners swear by the use of Epsom salts in their garden, but industrial farming hasn’t quite caught on.
How to increase your magnesium
The best way to supplement any nutrient is through your diet. Foods high in magnesium include a variety of nuts, like almonds, cashews, and peanuts. Unfortunately, many individuals are highly allergic to nuts. Other high magnesium foods include wheat, which leaves out those who can’t tolerate wheat or gluten.
Another problem with adding magnesium to food or taking oral supplements is this: Some individuals are more sensitive to magnesium than others.
At its worse, an overdose of magnesium can cause cardiac problems, like an irregular heartbeat and even cardiac arrest. At the very least, an excess of magnesium can cause diarrhea and gastric distress. The real problem is that the optimum dosage varies widely from individual to individual.
The magnesium in Epsom salt absorbs the best through sweat glands, and as most of us know to our chagrin, the feet host more sweat glands than nearly anywhere else in the human body.
The good news is that it’s possible to increase your magnesium levels with an Epsom salt foot soak. Along with targeting the cramping muscles in your feet, you’ll also bypass the embarrassing and inconvenient laxative side effect that often occurs when taking magnesium internally.
What Else Does an Epsom Salt Foot Soak Do?
Along with treating sore foot muscles and cramps, Epsom salts also seems to offer mild anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Although there isn’t substantial scientific evidence that supports the theory, it does dry out the skin. This effect can relieve much of the burning and itching involved in tinea pedis (athlete’s foot), which provides some comfort. By reducing the itching, it can also help prevent the spread of the fungal infection through incessant scratching.
Another way that an Epsom salt foot soak can relieve skin problems is through exfoliation. Many people use Epsom salts as a skin scrub, and the resulting exfoliation removes dead skin cells. Athlete’s foot is basically a yeast infection of the skin layers.
And by removing the top dead layer of skin, anti-fungal medications are better able to permeate the dermal layers to treat the underlying infection.
What an Epsom Salt Foot Soak Won’t Do
Some health gurus claim that an Epsom salt soak removes toxins, but there simply isn’t any real evidence of this. And you’ll notice that many make this claim without citing any scientific sources. Your body has several means of removing toxins, and the one major one is through your skin. However, so far, there’s no established proof that Epsom salts make this process any more efficient.
Any hot foot bath will open the pores and induce sweating, which does help remove toxins quicker. What Epsom salts will do, however, is soothe your tired, sweaty feet after they’ve done a hard job of holding you upright all day and removing toxins through the sweat glands at their regular pace.
An Epsom salt foot soak will help you absorb more magnesium, allowing your muscles to relax and helping to dry up infected and itchy skin.
Turn Your Epsom Salt Foot Soak into a Day at the Spa
Along with the medical benefits, you can turn any foot soak into foot spa by adding a few extras to your foot bath. Some are just pleasant fragrances to enjoy, while other additions boost the effects of the magnesium sulfate when treating a problem with your feet.
Lavender is a favorite fragrance to add to an Epsom salt foot soak. Along with the aromatherapy benefits of increased relaxation, lavender aids in wound healing.
Also known as sodium bicarbonate, plain baking soda works with Epsom salts to soothe athlete’s foot. Unlike magnesium sulfate, there is some evidence that sodium bicarbonate does kill several different types of fungal infections. If you have athlete’s foot or Onychomycosis — a fungal infection of the toenails — try a combination of the two ingredients in your foot spa for relief. It will also reduce foot odor in overly sweaty feet.
Tea tree oil
The oil of the Melaleuca tree has shown to have both anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Although the odor can seem somewhat medicinal, adding tea tree oil to a foot soak can help treat cuts, scrapes, and athlete’s foot. Make a mixture of Epsom salts with a few drops of tea tree oil to produce a foot scrub. Let the mixture sit on the skin and absorb for about five minutes before putting your feet into your foot bath.
Dead Sea salts
Similar to Epsom salts, mineral salts from the Dead Sea contain magnesium, but in a different form. Dead sea salts include magnesium chloride, and a recent study has shown that skin soaked in a bath with a 5 percent solution of Dead Sea salts had better hydration for a moisturizing effect. Skin redness and irritation was also significantly reduced.
Other ideas for your Epsom salt foot soak
If you suffer from bone spurs and plantar fasciitis, an Epsom salt foot soak can provide immediate relief. Add one cup of Epsom salts to two gallons of warm water and soak for 20 to 30 minutes. For extra comfort, use this formula in a vibrating foot spa to massage the muscles and increase circulation to your tired feet.
For those who have itchy, burning feet, mix up a foot scrub with a cup each of Epsom salts and baking soda. Add two tablespoons of tea tree oil.
Use your scrub to rub off the dried, dead skin that’s so common in those with fungal infections. Let the mixture soak into your skin for about 5 minutes. Then, add a handful of the mix to your foot bath and soak for 20 minutes. You can store any leftover scrub to use on a weekly basis.
Get Relief for Your Tired, Aching, Itchy Feet
Remember that you can always turn your foot bath into a day at the spa. Before setting up your soak, make sure that you’ve got a comfy chair to rest in. Find something fun on television or grab the latest novel you’ve wanted to read. Grab your favorite beverage and relax.
Take the time to enjoy your Epsom salt foot soak, and when it’s finished, use your favorite foot massager. Then, slather on a lotion with healing essential oils and don some soft, fluffy socks. If you suffer from overly sweaty feet, you can massage them with baby powder. The talcum makes it easy to glide your hands along your skin without clogging your pores.
Do you have a favorite recipe for your Epsom salt foot soak? What are your favorite essential oils to use? Add your favorites to the comments below so that we can share your tips with your readers.