copyright Kd. 2002 last updated 8.25.05
Why Use Epsom Salts
Dr Rosemary Waring found that most people with autism conditions have a deficiency in a key detoxification pathway. The pathway involves using sulfur in the form of sulfate (known as sulfation). The enzyme involved is phenol sulfur-transferase (PST), but the problem is thought to hinge on an inadequate supply of usable sulfate ions, not the metabolic enzyme itself.
Dr Waring found that most children on the autism spectrum are very low in sulfate and may be as low as 15 percent of the amount in neurologically typical people. People with low or no ability to convert compounds to sulfate have problems handling environmental chemicals, some medications, and even some chemicals produced within the body. They include people with other conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and chemical sensitivities.
The PST sulfation pathway is necessary for the breakdown and removal of certain toxins in the body. This includes the processing of a type of chemical called a phenol. Phenols are a regular and necessary part of life. All foods contain some phenolic compounds. However, some foods have a much higher content than others do. If the sulfation pathway is not functioning well, a person may not be able to process out the phenolic compounds as fast as they consume them. There is a cumulative effect. When the phenols start backing up in the system, it can cause a myriad of negative reactions. Symptoms of phenol intolerance include night waking, night sweats, irritability, eczema, and other skin conditions. The symptoms of phenol intolerance and yeast may be very similar because they both involve the body trying to deal with toxins.
This detoxification pathway processes other phenolic compounds including salicylates (salicylates are a subset of phenols), artificial food colorings, artificial flavorings, and some preservatives. Besides requiring PST, research has found the salicylates further suppress the activity of any PST enzyme present, making matters worse. Food dyes also have been shown to inhibit the PST enzyme.
You can unclog this ‘bottleneck’ in one of two ways. One is reducing the amount of phenols and toxins entering the body. This is the basis of the Feingold Program or diet. The Feingold Program removes the hard-to-process artificial colorings, flavorings, and three preservatives. It also removes the most problematic of the salicylate foods at the beginning of the program. Later in the program, you may be able to add these salicylate foods back after testing them one at a time. The foods targeted by the Feingold Program and their effects on hyperactivity in children have been extensively studied. Eliminating these chemicals has been effectively helping many children with all sorts of behavior problems for many years, although the reasons why are just now beginning to be understood.
There is an abundance of studies in the references that specifically show that eliminating these types of chemicals significantly improve neurological problems in children.
note: look in the Research section at the top of the page at the above link. This site contains information on the possible symptoms from various food and environmental chemicals also.
A literature review by Kidd (2000) concludes that although the exact cause of attention deficit conditions is unknown, the current consensus is that genetics plays a role. Other major contributors include adverse responses to food additives, intolerances to foods, sensitivities to environmental chemicals, nutrient deficiencies, and exposures to neurodevelopmental toxins such as heavy metals. This sounds exactly like the factors contributing to autism, migraines, sensory integration issues and other related conditions.
The second method of enhancing the detoxification process is to supply more sulfate. This increases the amount of toxins processed out. Sulfate ions may not be absorbed well from the gut, so simply giving more sulfur directly by swallowing supplements may not produce satisfactory results. Some people have seen improvements by supplementing with the sulfur-containing amino acids cysteine and taurine, or MSM (methysulfonylmethane), or by using one of the many commercially available MSM creams. However, others have not found this tolerable. This may be because their body is unable to convert the sulfur to the needed sulfate form.
Most people do see improvement with Epsom salts because the form of sulfur in the Epsom salts is already sulfate and readily available to the body.
What are Epsom salts and how do they work?
Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate. Salts are just molecules that form because the parts have opposite electrical charges that bind together. Magnesium has a positive charge. Sulfate has a negative charge, and performs all sorts of unique biological functions. The two elements dissociate in solution (English translation: break apart and separate in liquid). Epsom salts are available at most local grocers or health food stores, or inexpensively in bulk at agricultural supply stores.
The magnesium and sulfate in the salts are absorbed into the body through the skin. Because the sulfur is already in the sulfate form, it does not need to be converted like other forms of sulfur do. Sulfate is thought to circulate in the body up to about nine hours. Any Epsom salts left on the skin may continue to be absorbed as long as it is still on the skin, offering continuous ‘timed-released’ input into the bloodstream – like medications given through skin patches. Many people on a typical ‘modern’ processed diet are very deficient in magnesium as well, which Epsom salts also supply in a highly available form. Main effects of insufficient magnesium are hyperness, irritability, anxiety, and muscle twitching or spasms. So the salts may provide two-way assistance.
How to give Epsom salts
Here are several methods for giving Epsom salts. The ratio is not exact, just what seems to get the salts dissolved and on the skin.
Epsom salt baths – Most people use about one to two cups per tub. Dissolve the salts in hot water first and then fill the tub to about waist deep, as warm as possible. The amount of salts you may find works best will depend on the individual tolerance, the temperature of the water, and the size of the tub. The warmer the water and larger the tub, the more salts will dissolve. If you see negative reactions, such as irritability or hyperactivity, then decrease the amount of salts. You may need to start with as little as one tablespoon of salts, and work up gradually. Epsom salts baths are very calming for most people. This works well just before bedtime. Most guides say to soak for about 20 minutes or more. It is okay to let the salts dry on the skin. You may notice a dry clear-white powder. If it is too itchy or irritating, just rinse it off. If the skin feels too dry, use lotion or oils to moisturize. Diarrhea or loose stools may result if children drink the bath water.
Spray – Mix one part salts and one part water (add more water if the salts are not dissolved) and put in a spray-squirt bottle. Mist the person’s chest and/or back and let it dry on the skin. This method works well in the summer.
Footbath – Mix one part salts to two parts water (or more so the salts dissolve) and let the person soak their feet in it. My boys would soak their feet about 30 minutes while they did reading or homework.
Homemade lotion – This is my favorite at the moment. Cheap and easy.
Recipe 1 from Karen D: Heat some Epsom salts with a little water to dissolve them. I put about one teaspoon of water in three tablespoons of salts and microwave for a minute or so. Add more water if necessary. Then mix this into around four ounces of any lotion or cream you like. I have used suntan lotion, handcream, cocoa butter, body lotion, aloe vera cream, whatever I find that is on sale or inexpensive without the chemicals I am trying to avoid. This seems to work better if the cream or lotion is water-based rather than oil-based. Good buys are at the local grocer in the lotion section. Apply to skin anywhere as often as desired. Some new commercially prepared Epsom salt creams are available but can be very expensive and may contain chemicals that are not tolerated.
Recipe 2 from Rubby: Well – my recipe for the Epsom salt cream is quite unscientific. I don't really measure my ingredients – I just add a bit of everything until I have the consistency I like.
Hot water – approximately 50ml
Epsom Salt – approximately 4-5 tablespoonfuls (I keep on adding the salt to the water for as long as it dissolves – usually 5 tblsp)
White Petroleum Jelly – 5-6 tblsp (or more ??)
Natural Cocoa Butter Cream – 2-3 tblsp
I start by adding the salt into the hot water and boiling it for a few minures (make sure the salt is dissolved), then I add the Petroleum jelly and mix it all with a hand mixer (one you would use to whipp cream); once I get a white, creamy mixture, I add some cocoa butter cream and mix again.And that's it. I get approximately 250 – 350 ml cream. I use it only once a day, on days when we don't do a bath. I use it to massage my daughter's back, her chest and her legs (with a focus on her feet – she loves it). Somethimes, I add in a few drops of Lavander Oil.
The cost – minimal. I buy my local pharmacy brand (in Toronto – Shoppers Drug Mart – "Life") Petroleum Jelly (500 gr.) $3 (CAD), Coca Butter Cream (400 ml) $3 and Epsom Salt (1kg) $3.5 (CAD). I think that the two creams I use will make at least 3 Epsom salt mixtures, which means that my cream costs me approximately $2-3 (CAD). And it lasts me a long time – even though I try to put on my daughter as much as possible.
Epsom salt oil – Neither of my sons nor I liked the salty film left on the skin after a bath (felt itchy). I mixed some coconut oil in with the salts and water. Actually, it is more oil than water. Three tablespoons water plus four tablespoons salts plus 12 tablespoons coconut oil. The coconut oil is good for the skin anyway and it seems to counter the drying effect of the salts. I found that just mixing the salts and oil did not dissolve the salts, so I needed to add some water. I apply this liberally on the skin and it soaks in plus leaves the skin smooth and soft. Adjust the quantity of salts to your liking.
Sponge – A solution of one part salts to four parts water works well. Dampen a sponge in the mixture and apply to any part of the body.
Poultice or skin patch – You can mix some Epsom salts and whatever kind of lotion the person can tolerate into a paste. Put this paste on a large bandaid and apply to the skin. The salts will soak into the skin.
High phenolic foods, chemical additives, and enzymes
Phenols and salicylates do not occur in the same intensity in all foods. Those parents on the Feingold diet point out some studies rank foods by the quantity of phenols present in a food as very low, low, medium, high, and very high. These are not absolute values or correspond with exact toxicities or reactions to the foods. Rather it is included only as a guide. The Feingold literature also notes that salicylates are cumulative in the body, and may only be processed out at a certain rate. So, if you consume more than the body can process out, you get a reaction.
Regarding the other chemicals, even small amounts of coloring or other chemicals may cause a reaction, which indicates some sort of pharmacological effect as well. For people who are sensitive to phenols, a strong broad-spectrum enzyme product may help somewhat with phenolic foods. Several parents found they could give low quantities of some phenols, but needed to keep track of the total phenol load for the day, or week. Enzymes may be helping some by breaking down a wide array of foods, or by releasing more sulfur, magnesium, and molybdenum which are helpful in processing phenols.
In April 2002, No-Fenol became available. It is a very unique enzyme mixture just for assisting with the digestion of highly phenolic foods, including fruits, chemicals, and artificial additives. No-Fenol performed very well in months of preliminary tests with phenolic-sensitive children. Since its release, it continues to give excellent results with these foods.
The exact reason No-Fenol helps is not precisely understood. The phenol metabolism, sulfation, and detoxification issues are rather complex. It may not be due so much to the presence of phenols as to the specific structure of these phenols. The research literature indicates that some phenolic compounds are modified by the addition of carbohydrate groups to their structures, which may inhibit their crossing into cells and being metabolized properly. A current hypothesis for why No-Fenol helps may be because the enzymes in this product are able to remove certain carbohydrate groups from the phenols, or otherwise modify their structure, thus allowing normal processing by the detoxification pathways.
Since fruit-derived enzymes may contribute some phenols into the system, products without the fruit-derived proteases (bromelain, papain, actinidin) may help those concerned about phenols. Enzymedica is one of several companies that makes enzyme products without fruit-derived enzymes or fillers.
Many parents giving these enzymes have said how wonderful it is to be able to give even a low amount of phenols again. Just being able to add foods containing a little bit of fruit greatly expands their child’s menu. Enzymes may help protect against hidden sources of the unwanted phenol compounds.
Fruits and vegetables are very beneficial in maintaining good health. Flavonoids, beta-carotenes, and other phenolic compounds have been specifically identified as important in preventing an number of illnesses, such as various cancers, and have an important role as effective antioxidants.
Sometimes a food may appear to give a 'phenolic' or unwanted reaction. It may be because the food actually contains a phenolic-based preservative. At times this turns out to be the case with dairy. Vitamin A palmitate is often added to low-fat or skim milks. The palmitate may be preserved with a phenolic compound. When people switch to a whole milk or milk product without this preservative (or artifical colorings/flavorings) they no longer have a problem with dairy. The same may be true of commercial breads. Often the shortening or pan sprays used in baked goods contain artificial preservatives that are the cause of the problem and not the grains in themselves. This may be the same with other foods as well.
Which enzyme products to not contain fruit-derived enzymes?
Enzymes in general can be great! However, a particular person may not tolerate certain fillers, added herbs, particular enzyme ingredient, or even a particular blend.
The fruit-derived enzymes are perfectly fine enzymes which are well-studied and work great for many people. But it is also know that the can be a problem for those that are phenol sensitive, salicylate sensitive, or have detoxification problems. If you are not sensitive to fruit-derived enzymes, the fruit-derived enzymes are not a problem.
If you are having difficulting tolerating enzymes, check to see if it contains fruit-derived enzymes. If so, try a product without the fruit-derived enzymes...not many out there but there are some good choices. Personally, I like Lacto as a starter enzyme, particularly if you have problems with dairy or serious gut injury. But just about any product without the fruit-derived enzymes may work...just start at a lower dose and gradually increase the amount to higher doses over the course of 4-5 days. After a little gut healing, higher levels of proteases aren't a problem and you can switch around to other products, or add more enzymes in, if you want.
Here is a list of what the products without fruit-derived enzymes I are aware of. Please note that even if a product does not have fruity-derived enzymes, you still need to check to see if it fits your needs or purpose. If anyone knows of other products without fruit-derived enzymes, please let me know and I'll add it to this reference list:
Enzymedica (the Thera-blends do not contain fruit-derived enzymes):