Many Americans are deficient in magnesium, sulfur and sulfate, experts say. It's a problem that causes a variety of health issues that could be prevented with small changes to diet and behavior, including frequent soaks in Epsom salt.
A lack of magnesium, for instance, can contribute to high blood pressure, hyperactivity, heart problems and other health issues, says Leo Galland, M.D., an internist practicing in New York City who directs the Foundation for Integrated Medicine.
To find out if you need more magnesium, which helps regulate the activity of more than 300 enzymes in the body, Galland says you can take the questionnaire at http://mdheal.org/mediators.htm. Signs of a deficiency include leg and foot cramps, sensitivity to loud noises, muscle twitches and spasms or stress and irritability, says Galland, the 2011 recipient of the Seelig Magnesium Award from the American College of Nutrition and founder of www.pilladvised.com, a website devoted to nutritional and environmental health.
To increase your body's level of magnesium, Galland says you can:
- Eat more nuts, vegetables and seafood, and limit intake of sugar.
- Check with your doctor about whether you should take magnesium supplements.
- Soak in Epsom salt, which is actually magnesium sulfate, because magnesium can be absorbed through the skin.
"Magnesium deficiencies are very common globally, and the need for magnesium is increased by stress and a number of different health disorders," Galland says. "An Epsom salt bath is an excellent stress reliever, it relaxes muscles and it's another source of magnesium."
Sulfur and sulfate deficiencies, meanwhile, help cause cardiovascular diseases and other health issues, according to MIT Senior Research Scientist Stephanie Seneff, Ph.D.
Seneff, who is first author on three recent publications in medical journals, has focused her recent research on the relationship between nutrition and health.
"I began to realize cardiovascular disease is really related to instability of the blood, and the instability is related to the issue of a deficiency of sulfate," Seneff says. She argues that cholesterol sulfate is synthesized in the skin, in addition to vitamin D3 sulfate, upon sun exposure. "It [cholesterol sulfate] is a mysterious molecule, it comes and goes very quickly in the blood, and they're not studying it."
To boost your body's level of sulfur and sulfate, she suggests the following changes.
- Eat more seafood, garlic, grass-fed beef and organic, free-range eggs. "The best quality you can find, it's worth the difference in price."
- Increase your exposure to sunlight.
- Soak in Epsom salt.
"I don't take any prescription drugs or supplements," Seneff says. "The only thing I do, and I recommend this, is soak in Epsom salt. Dump about a quarter cup in a tub of water, twice a week."