(First in a series of three wives tales)
My mother taught me about Epsom salts for aches and pains. She would swear by it and I would ignore it; chalking it up to another old wives tale she told me. But then autism entered our lives and suddenly I was reading about the magic of Epsom salt baths. Could my mom actually have been right about this? Well, yes.
The reason I learned about Epsom salt baths for my son with autism was due to the research I was conducting on some of his physical and behavioral symptoms he displayed. It turned out that he has trouble with his PST (phenol-sulfotransferase) system and the processing of phenols and salicylates.
Symptoms of PST/sulfate deficiency (problems with phenols/salicylates) are reddened ears, hyperactivity, inappropriate laughter, night sweats, black under eyes, excessive thirst, eczema, facial flushing, trouble falling to sleep, disturbed sleep and odorous bed-clothes. Your child doesn’t have to exhibit all of these symptoms in order to have trouble with phenols. My son gets most of these symptoms and he not only becomes very hyper, but he starts to stim and he has trouble with emotion regulation.
Ready for the medical science behind this? One very important sulfotransferase enzyme is the one that attaches sulfate to phenol compounds, called phenol-sulfotransferase (PST). The PST is under active in the majority of autistic children. Without the PST enzyme working properly, the liver will have trouble eliminating the phenols in food. PST is a Phase 2 liver enzyme that detoxifies leftover hormones and a wide variety of toxic molecules, such as phenols and amines that are produced in the body (and even in the gut by bacteria, yeast, and other fungi) as well as food dyes and chemicals.
OK, so what are phenols? Phenols are present in food dyes, artificial flavors, preservatives and in highly colored fruits and vegetables, in bioflavonoids, and in carotenoids (carotene, lutein, lycopene, xanthophylls, and zeaxanthin). Almost all foods have phenols, but in varying amounts. Salicylates are a subgroup of phenols. Salicylate is a group of chemicals related to aspirin. There are several kinds of salicylate, which plants make as a natural pesticide to protect themselves. Foods high in natural salicylates are tomatoes, apples, peanuts, bananas, oranges, cocoa (chocolate), red grapes, coffee, all berries, peppers (bell & chili) to name a few. My son can’t tolerate too many phenols/salicylates. He reacts to tomatoes (yes, ketchup and pasta sauce!), chocolate, red grapes, and artificial colors/flavors.
Most children on the autism spectrum are very low in sulfate due to a deficiency in this PST pathway. Since sulfur intake is low, and its oxidation is slow in many autistic children, phenols and salicylates that requires or uses up sulfate ions during its metabolism, will make the situation worse. Tylenol is phenolic and one or two minutes after a dose of Tylenol, the entire supply of sulfate in the liver is gone!
So, what’s a mother to do? Well, listen to their mother. Epsom salt baths. One way to enhance detoxification 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. This may be because their body is unable to convert the sulfur to the needed sulfate form. Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate which is readily available to support the PST pathway. You can purchase Epsom salts at Costco, Wal-Mart or your local grocery and health food stores. Be sure to purchase U.S.P. (United States pharmaceutical grade).
When given an Epsom salt bath, 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.
I put 1.5 to 2 cups of Epsom salts in hot bath water to dissolve and then add the cold water to balance the temperature. My son will soak for about 15 minutes before I use natural soaps or shampoos. Others add baking soda and lavender oil to enhance the relaxation effects. I give my son an Epsom salt bath at least 5 nights a week, others do less. It really soothes and calms him for bedtime.
I’ve finally decided to take heed to my mother’s old wives tales she’s been sharing with me for the past 40 years. There is something to be said about listening to your mother. But perhaps we should refer to them as “old wise tales” from now on.
Read the second post in the series of “Old Wives Tales” here: http://healingautismandadhd.wordpress.com/2010/06/25/a-tablespoon-of-apple-cider-vinegar-a-day-keeps-the-doctor-away/
Filed under: Biomedical interventions Tagged: | ADHD, autism, Biomedical interventions, epsom salts, healing autism and adhd, high functioning autism, Joanne Allor, magnesium sulfate, old wives tales, phenols, salicylates, symptoms of PST deficiency