Gout is one of the most painful forms of arthritis – possibly the most painful – caused by abnormally high levels of uric acid in the bloodstream out of which urate crystals form in the joints, tendons and surrounding tissue.
Although gout can be managed with medicines, more and more people are searching for natural home remedies, not only to relieve the pain and inflammation of a gout attack, but also to prevent the recurring gout episodes that can seriously damage their health, even threaten their very existence.
One such remedy that many talk – or rather, argue – about online is the use of Epsom salts for gout pain…
What Are Epsom Salts?
Epsom Salts isn’t an edible salt like common table salt, sea salt, rock salt, etc., it’s a naturally occurring mineral compound called ‘magnesium sulfate.’
It’s named after the English town of Epsom which, in the 17th century, became a popular spa town following the discovery nearby of a saline-rich spring from which magnesium sulfate was obtained by boiling the water.
Hydrated magnesium sulfate has the appearance of common salt crystals, which may be why it was referred to as a salt back then although, because of its chemical structure, it technically is a salt, just not the edible type.
Way back then it was mainly used for its ‘purgative’ powers; laxatives to you and me! But, since those early days, it has been used for a whole host of conditions, which we’ll discuss further down the page.
Why is the Magnesium in Epsom Salts Important?
“Magnesium is a macro-mineral, which, unlike trace minerals, is needed by the body in large amounts. Calcium, sodium, and potassium are also macro-minerals. The average human body contains about 25 grams of magnesium, one of the six essential minerals that must be supplied in the diet.
Once magnesium enters the body through food, supplements, or topical applications, it is broken down and released to form independent magnesium atoms, or “ions”. In its ionic form, magnesium has a positive charge, commonly noted as Mg2+.
Magnesium cations function as a part of the structure of the body through their presence in bone. But arguably more important is their function as cell regulators in hundreds of chemical reactions throughout the body.”
(Note: If you’re wondering what ‘cations’ are in the above statement they are ions or compounds that result in an overall positive charge.)
Studies have shown that magnesium regulates the activity of over 325 enzymes and has a critical role in keeping your body working properly including:
- cell membrane health
- energy production
- brain / nervous system messaging
- muscle control
- regulation of minerals and nutrients
- cholesterol regulation
- the elimination of harmful toxins
And Epsom Salts’ Sulphur Content is Important Too
“…sulfur is also required for the proper structure and biological activity of enzymes. If you don’t have sufficient amounts of sulfur in your body the enzymes cannot function properly, which can cascade into a number of health problems as without biologically active enzymes, your metabolic processes cannot function properly.
Sulfur also plays an important role in:
- Your body’s electron transport system, as part of iron/sulfur proteins in mitochondria, the energy factories of your cells
- Vitamin-B thiamine (B1) and biotin conversion, which in turn are essential for converting carbohydrates into energy
- Synthesizing important metabolic intermediates, such as glutathione
- Proper insulin function. The insulin molecule consists of two amino acid chains connected to each other by sulfur bridges, without which the insulin cannot perform its biological activity
You can see, then, why Epsom salts has become a very popular natural home remedy for gout. Since its early days as a natural purgative, it’s now used for a number of conditions such as:
- heart and circulatory health
- blood sugar regulation
- healing cuts
- stress relief
- sprains and muscle aches
- better nutrient absorption in the body
- acid indigestion
- athlete’s foot
- nail fungal infections
- magnesium deficiency
- …and more
Where’s the Evidence that Epsom Salts Can Help Your Gout?
Numerous studies have shown that these salts are an effective laxative and antacid for acid indigestion. Others have shown that they can help to regulate electrolytes in your body so that your enzymes, nerves and muscles all work as they should.
And we already know that magnesium is absolutely critical in the proper regulation of calcium, which is so important in the conduction of electrical impulses around your body.
Studies also link daily magnesium to a reduced the risk of developing diabetes, migraine prevention, and even preventing depression.
So there’s a good deal of evidence for many of its potential uses.
But where’s the evidence that Epsom salts can relieve gout pain and inflammation?
Well, there’s none I’m afraid; at least none that I could find…
However, there are many folks on gout forums who have reported that soaking their feet in hot water with Epsom salts has helped to relieve the pain and inflammation. Now, the question is whether their results were due to the actual salts or just the effects of the warm soak itself?
Well, this may have been answered: A recent study by Dr. R.H. Waring of the School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham in England, linked Epsom salt baths to increased magnesium and sulfate levels in the body, believed to happen by the minerals crossing the skin barrier during soaking. (Note, though, that the study has come under some criticism, since it did not include a control group.)
How to Use Epsom Salts for Gout
To help reduce the inflammation during a gout flare add 1/2 a cup of Epsom salts into a basin of hot water and soak the affected foot or joint for around 20 minutes. The water should be as hot as is comfortable.
Where the affected joint is difficult to position in a basin, add 2 full cups of Epsom salts into a bath containing hot water (as hot as is comfortable) and soak your body for 15 to 20 minutes. Do this 2 to 3 times per week.
Another way to use this home remedy is to apply a compress over / around the affected area. Just soak a cloth or towel in hot water containing Epsom salt.
Be careful though…
- Don’t use Epsom salts in higher doses than recommended by your healthcare provider or on the package. Taking too much can cause serious, even life-threatening side effects.
- Don’t use if you’re pregnant. Magnesium sulfate can cause low calcium and bone problems in unborn babies.
- Magnesium has a drying effect on the skin. So moisturize well after every soak.
- For the same reason, if you have diabetes it may be best to avoid soaking as this can lead to irritation, dry / cracked skin, and possible infections. This is especially relevant for a foot soak.
- If you suspect that you or someone else has overdosed on Epsom salts then seek immediate medical help.