Magnesium is found in large quantities within the human body and serves many purposes. It is responsible for upholding the work of nerves and muscles, regulates heart rate and strengthens bones. Some people may suffer from magnesium deficiency, particularly those who take certain types of medications or who have intestinal disorders that affect magnesium absorption. Several types of supplements can resolve magnesium deficiency. Although they all may have the term "magnesium" in their names, there are differences among some of these compounds.
Though the word “salt” appears in the name, Epsom salt is a type of magnesium known as magnesium sulfate. It has a crystalline structure that is similar in appearance to large salt granules. It is created for several purposes, including relief of constipation when ingested. It is also designed to be added to bath water for soaking. According to the Epsom Salt Council, you can absorb magnesium through the skin, as well as certain sulfates, which help to build brain tissue, support the joints and promote production of digestive enzymes that detoxify the body. Although it is a form of magnesium, Epsom salt contains sulfates that differ from magnesium chloride.
Magnesium chloride is a type of salt that originally comes from seawater. It is often taken orally to resolve mild hypomagnesemia, or it may be given intravenously for those who have severe deficiencies. In some situations, magnesium chloride is used as an emergency medication for a heart attack. Different types of supplements may have varying amounts of elemental magnesium, which means that not all magnesium in the supplement is available for absorption by the body. According to the National Institutes of Health, magnesium chloride has approximately 12 percent magnesium available for absorption. Alternatively, magnesium sulfate, or that found in Epsom salt, contains only 10 percent magnesium available for absorption.
Although both Epsom salt and magnesium chloride may be given for the treatment of some conditions, consult your doctor if you have any side effects. While Epsom salt is approved by the FDA as safe to ingest, read the directions to avoid overconsumption. Magnesium chloride may interfere with other drugs you might be taking, including some thyroid replacement medications and certain antibiotics. If you must take magnesium to replace a deficiency, your doctor can determine the proper dosage and what drugs are safe to use.
While both magnesium chloride and magnesium sulfate are similar as supplements, there are other, different uses for both of these compounds. Epsom salt may also be used to soften skin as an exfoliant, and some people use it in the garden to help their plants grow or to produce larger flowers. Additionally, magnesium sulfate, the chemical components of Epsom salt, is given intravenously to reduce the incidence of seizures among pregnant women with very high blood pressures. Magnesium chloride, when combined with other chemical elements, is used to create metal alloys, which may be found in tools, computer casings or mobile phones.
Meg Brannagan has worked as a registered nurse for more than 10 years, specializing in women's and children's health. She holds a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.