Magnesium sulfate is an important chemical compound. Its constituent elements are magnesium, sulfur and oxygen. It is denoted by the chemical formula MgSO4. Basically, it can be identified as a colorless, odorless, solid substance. This naturally occurring mineral is mostly found in hydrated state. This is because it tends to absorb water from the atmosphere. One of its most widely available hydrated form is magnesium sulfate heptahydrate, also known as Epsom salt. It has 7 molecules of water of crystallization and is represented by MgSO4.7H2O.

General Uses

One of its major uses is in agriculture and gardening where it is used as a fertilizer. It is often applied to magnesium deficient soil to make it fertile. As it is soluble in water, it is readily absorbed into the soil. Magnesium thus obtained is good for plants because it is a key component of chlorophyll molecule that absorbs sunlight and utilizes the light energy for the process of manufacture of food for plants during photosynthesis. It is required mostly for crops like tomatoes, potatoes and roses which need plenty of magnesium for proper growth.

Magnesium sulfate heptahydrate or Epsom salt needs to be added in marine aquarium after frequent interval of time. This is done to prevent deficiency of magnesium in the saltwater. Anhydrous magnesium sulfate acts as an excellent dehydrating agent in chemical synthesis of organic compounds. Anhydrous form is used in this process mainly because it is hygroscopic in nature and has affinity for water. Another use is as a coagulating agent in soy milk for making tofu.

Medical Uses

Magnesium sulfate has a wide range of therapeutic uses. Magnesium present in it is highly beneficial for proper functioning of the nerves, muscles and various systems of the body. Some of the key medicinal uses are :
  • Magnesium sulfate has laxative properties and provides relief from constipation. When taken orally, it stimulates bowel movement and enables easier passage of stool.
  • It can be used for the treatment of preeclampsia in pregnant women. This is a pregnancy condition characterized by high blood pressure and excessive protein in urine. In this condition, magnesium sulfate injections are given to lower blood pressure. This in turn reduces the risk of eclampsia which is a more serious condition due to which pregnant women may suffer convulsions during labor that can lead to life-threatening conditions for them as well as the unborn child.
  • Sometimes, it is administered intravenously or intramuscularly to pregnant women in order to prevent premature labor. It is also used to reduce convulsions during childbirth.
  • It is also used for treating severe asthma attacks. When given intravenously, it reduces inflammation within the air passage and facilitates normal airflow.
  • Epsom salt dissolved in water can be applied topically on arthritic joints. It reduces swelling of joints and stiffness of surrounding muscles and thus gives significant relief from joint pain.
  • Similarly, patients suffering from osteoporosis have also experienced marked improvement in the painful condition after application of Epsom salt gel.
  • Epsom salt is a key ingredient in bath salts. Bath salts containing Epsom salt is used in flotation therapy for complete relaxation of the body. A traditional method of comforting sore feet, is taking a footbath where Epsom salt has been added to the water.
  • It can cure a number of skin problems. It can be applied directly on acne, boils, etc. without any fear of any adverse effect. On application, it gets absorbed into the skin easily and reduces skin inflammation. Those with dry skin can use Epsom salt for skin exfoliation. When rubbed over the skin surface, it helps in removal of dry and dead skin cells and makes the skin soft and smooth.
  • Epsom salt can be included in the hair care regime as well. When applied with shampoo, it absorbs the excess oil from oily hair and adds a glow and bounce to the hair. A warm mixture of hair conditioner and Epsom salt when used on hair adds shine to it.
I would like to tell you one thing that you must consult your physician first before using magnesium sulfate for medicinal purposes. Even though there is no major side effect, but overdose can cause nausea, vomiting, weakness, lethargy, etc. Moreover, it can interact with other drugs and cause unnecessary complications.