When you’re constipated, it’s common to want fast relief. Stimulant laxatives work, but they may cause painful cramping and explosive bowel movements. Epsom salt is a fast and gentler way to relieve constipation.

Epsom Salt

Epsom salt looks like table salt, or sodium chloride, but it isn’t made of the same ingredients. It’s made from the minerals magnesium and sulfate. It was first discovered centuries ago in Epsom, England.

Epsom salt is known for its ability to soften skin, soothe tired feet, and relieve muscle aches. It’s often used in do-it-yourself bath salts and skin scrubs. You can also take it internally to relieve constipation.


Constipation occurs when your stool takes too much time to move through your digestive tract and your stool becomes hard and dry. This can lead to fewer bowel movements or none at all. According to the Mayo Clinic, constipation occurs if you have bowel movements less than three times per week or less than what’s normal for you.

Constipation may be chronic or temporary. Either way, the condition can be very uncomfortable. It may cause:

  • hard stools
  • straining during bowel movements
  • the feeling that you haven’t emptied your bowel after a bowel movement
  • the need to manually remove stool
  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Causes of Constipation

Constipation is often caused by lifestyle factors, such as:

  • a low-fiber diet
  • a lack of exercise
  • dehydration
  • stress
  • laxative abuse

Being pregnant also tends to cause constipation.

Serious conditions that are linked with constipation include:

  • intestinal blockages
  • pelvic floor muscle problems
  • neurological conditions, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, neuropathy, or Parkinson’s disease
  • diabetes
  • thyroid problems

Complications of Constipation

It’s important to treat constipation to avoid serious complications, such as:

  • hemorrhoids
  • anal fissures
  • fecal impaction
  • rectal prolapse

Using Epsom Salt for Constipation

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved to Epsom salt for the treatment of constipation. Consuming Epsom salt increases the amount of water in your intestines. This softens your stool and makes it easier to pass.

Epsom salt is available at drugstores, grocery stores, and some discount department stores. It’s usually found in the laxative or personal care section. When you consume Epsom salt for constipation, use plain varieties. Don’t ingest scented varieties, even if the scent is made from natural oils.

In most cases, Epsom salt is safe for adults and children over 6 years old to use. Infants and children under 6 years old shouldn’t use Epsom salt internally or externally.

To treat constipation with Epsom salt, follow dosage guidelines. For adults and children 12 years old and older, dissolve 2-4 level teaspoons of Epsom salt in 8 ounces of water and drink immediately. For children 6 to 11 years old, dissolve 1-2 level teaspoons of Epsom salt in 8 ounces of water and drink immediately.

If you find the taste of Epsom salt is hard to tolerate, try adding fresh lemon juice. If the first dose doesn’t work, repeat after four hours. Don’t take more than two doses of Epsom salt daily. Don’t use it for more than one week without consulting your doctor. Contact your doctor if you don’t have a bowel movement after two doses.

Using Epsom salt externally may also relieve constipation. Dissolve 5 cups of Epsom salt in a bath full of warm water. Soaking in it may help relax your gut and soften your stool as you absorb magnesium through your skin. This may help produce a bowel movement.

Talk to your doctor before using Epsom salt if you have:

  • kidney disease
  • a magnesium-restricted diet
  • severe stomach pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • a sudden change in your bowel habits lasting two weeks or more

Learn more: 6 Natural constipation remedies »

What Are the Side Effects of Epsom Salt?

When it’s used correctly, Epsom salt is safe. Since Epsom salt has a laxative effect, it’s important to drink plenty of liquids to avoid dehydration while using it. All laxatives, including Epsom salt, may cause mild gastrointestinal issues such as:

  • nausea
  • cramping
  • bloating
  • gas
  • diarrhea

If they’re overused, laxatives may cause an electrolyte imbalance in your body. This may lead to symptoms such as:

  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • an irregular heartbeat
  • confusion
  • seizures

Tips for Preventing Constipation

Epsom salt usually produces a bowel movement within 30 minutes to six hours. A dose or two should clear up acute constipation.

Epsom salt is just a temporary fix. If you don’t identify the cause of your constipation and take steps to prevent it, you’ll likely experience it again. Your constipation may even become chronic. Ironically, the more you depend on laxatives, the worse your constipation may become.

Try the following tips to avoid chronic constipation:

Move more.

The more you sit, the harder it is for waste to move through your intestines. If you have a desk job, take a break and walk around each hour. Buy a pedometer and set a goal of 10,000 steps per day. Regular cardio exercise also helps.

Eat more fiber.

Add more insoluble fiber to your diet from food sources such as:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • nuts
  • seeds

Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool and helps move it through your intestines. Aim to consume 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day.

Drink more water.

When your body becomes dehydrated, so does your colon. Be sure to drink plenty of water or other non-sugary beverages, such as decaffeinated tea, throughout the day.

Reduce stress.

For some people, stress goes right to their gut and causes constipation. Try managing stress through:

  • meditation
  • yoga
  • psychotherapy
  • walking

Contact your doctor if your stress feels unmanageable.

Check your medications.

Some medications, such as opioids, sedatives, or blood pressure drugs, may cause chronic constipation. If you take medications that cause constipation, ask your doctor if a non-constipating alternative is available.

Learn more: Smooth moves: Yoga poses for constipation »

The Takeaway

Everyone experiences constipation now and then. When it’s used as directed, Epsom salt is an effective, FDA-approved alternative to stimulant laxatives. As long as you use Epsom salt in recommended doses, the side effects should be minimal and mild. In the case of laxatives, less is more. You should use as little as necessary to get results.

If you have any concerns about Epsom salt or you experience serious side effects, stop using it and contact your doctor.

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