Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Epsom salts baths for hangovers

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Three years ago, a reader asked a question about Epsom salts baths and hangovers, and I promised here that I would eventually address that sub-topic in an update to my huge article about Epsom salts. Recently I finally did that … and I wrote back to her to let her know. Three years after she asked. Because that is how I roll: slowly but relentlessly!

And now I’m letting everyone know. Here’s what I added to the article (along with three other Q&A pairs lately)…

Photographic closeup of a man’s squinting face, implying a severe headache.

Q Is Epsom salt good for a hangover? Something to do with electrolytes …

A Electrolytes are ions (like magnesium) in an electricty-conducting solution (which includes blood), and they have countless roles in our physiology. Getting drunk can deplete and/or disturb electrolytes (electrolyte chaos is a thing with alcoholics). So that’s the kernel of truth here, but there are many problems on the way from there to Epsom salt actually being “good for a hangover.”

Let’s start with the fact that it’s fairly unlikely that soaking in Epsom salts is actually an effective way to get some magnesium into you.+This point is argued in extreme detail in the full Epsom salts article. Meanwhile, food is hands-down the best form of electrolyte supplementation, and water is the best overall treatment for hangover because most of the symptoms of a hangover are due to dehydration, not electrolyte depletion. And there’s the fact that magnesium is only one of several important electrolytes. And the biggest problem: with your garden variety hangover, there is some electrolyte imbalance due to the dehydration, but not major shortages of electrolytes. The mechanism for significant electrolyte depletion is a lot of vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating, which is only going to be applicable to the very worst of all hangovers. That’s a lot of problems!

But Epsom salt is mainly reckoned to be good for a hangover for the same simplistic reasons it’s touted for everything else: detoxification and relief from aches and pains. A hangover hurts, right? And you’ve basically poisoned yourself! Since the thinking about Epsom salts never even remotely attempts to get specific about what kinds of toxins or aches and pains, really any of them are candidates.

It doesn’t work. Believe me, I’ve tried. This is the kind of “medical” advice you’re going to get only from celebrities and amateurs.