Warm baths are actually good for your health.
That’s right, a simple soak in warm to hot water actually has proven health benefits. These benefits include improving blood circulation, relaxing muscles, improving sleep quality, and reducing stress.
When I prescribe baths for my patients I recommend adding 2 cups of Epsom salts to the tub. Epsom salts are a particular type of salt mined from a spring in England. Epsom salt breaks down to magnesium and sulfate in water. Historically, epsom salts have been used for a laundry list of ailments from sore muscles to enhanced detoxification. Epsom salt baths are another traditional therapy that we don’t have the science to back up (yet!).
Anecdotally, adding Epsom salt to baths appears to increase the therapeutic benefit of a bath. I’ve heard all sorts of theories about how Epsom salt improves our health. There is one myth I want to dispel. Some folks are under the impression that the Epsom salt in a bath can somehow pull toxins from our tissues into the bath water. Not only is there no evidence to support this, it’s biologically improbable. What I suspect is happening is that we are absorbing some of the magnesium and sulfate in the water. This theory is also unproven but a small report in 2014 did show a modest increase in sulfate and magnesium in the blood after an Epsom salt bath. Magnesium is necessary for over 300 biochemical reactions in our body. We don’t know exactly how the magnesium moves from the water across our skin and into our tissues but that’s the main theory behind the additional benefit of adding Epsom salt to the bath water.
When I recommend Epsom salt baths I instruct patients to add 2 cups of salt to the bathtub, allow the salt to dissolve (4 minutes or so) and then soak for 20-30 minutes. I encourage patients to take an Epsom salt bath 2-3x per week in the evening.
I recommend Epsom salt baths to patients regularly for a variety of reasons:
- Forces folks to slow down and relax even if it’s just 20 minutes
- The warm bath will likely improve their sleep quality that night
- It may increase their tissue levels of magnesium
- Soothes sore muscles and joints
- Likely improves gentle detoxification via increased magnesium
Some reasons to be cautious or skip Epsom salt baths:
- Low blood pressure, high blood pressure, POTS, or orthostatic hypotension: warm baths relax your blood vessels and increase your heart rate both of which can cause changes to your blood pressure. If you have any of these conditions be cautious getting out of the tub and make sure someone is nearby to help you in case you feel faint. I also recommend just a warm bath instead of a hot bath in these cases.
- Sulfate allergy: the sulfate in the water could cause hives
In summary, Epsom salts are a low cost and safe addition to a therapeutic warm bath.
- Hoekstra, S. P., Bishop, N. C., Faulkner, S. H., Bailey, S. J., & Leicht, C. A. (2018). Acute and chronic effects of hot water immersion on inflammation and metabolism in sedentary, overweight adults. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 125(6), 2008–2018