Monday, 28 October 2013

Epsom salts, Autism and Hypokalemic Sensory Overload

Early on in this blog I wrote about a supposedly rare condition, where somebody suffers from sensory overload, usually from sound, but it could be light or even smell.  That condition has fancy sounding name, Hypokalemic Sensory Overload.  The cure is very simple, just to give oral potassium and within 20 minutes there is a full recovery.  Here is one research study.
I felt it odd that nobody had compared this to sensory overload in autism.  I did my own experiment at home and found to my surprise that sensory overload in autism could also be treated with oral potassium.

In the last few weeks I received two very thoughtful comments on this blog, from adult sufferers who have found the same remedy as I have.  So at least I am no longer in a minority of one.
The interesting thing about potassium in the human body is that it relies on another electrolyte, magnesium.  Without sufficient magnesium, the body cannot maintain an adequate level of potassium.  This is why supplements normally contain both potassium and magnesium.  A problem with both potassium and magnesium is that they very easily upset the stomach, indeed some laxatives are based on magnesium.

Epsom salts
I have noted that the long list of autism interventions used in the US, frequently includes having a bath in Epsom salts.  Epsom salts are named after a town near London, England, from which they were originally mined.  Epsom salts are just magnesium sulphate (MgSO4).
In the “biomedical” community it is proposed that magnesium does great things for autism and/or sulphur does.
The sulphur part at least has a scientific explanation.  It was long ago shown that there is an apparent abnormality in the sulphur metabolism in autism. 

In effect there is greater loss than normal of sulphur in the urine, resulting in lower plasma levels than in typical people.

So people are dipping their kids in Epsom salts on that basis that either the magnesium or the sulphur will do some good, not sure of which.
Interestingly, on the web, I found one mother writing about the Epsom salts baths she gives her child; she says she know when it is time for another one, where her child starts to cover her ears (sound sensory overload).

Trans-dermal Magnesium
Since magnesium supplements are in-effect laxatives, other ways have been sought to administer this electrolyte.  There are several transdermal creams and sprays that do indeed seem to work, but they can irritate the skin.  Interestingly, also on the web, some autistic adults talk about using such supplements and benefiting. 

Making the Connection
Well I hope this is all obvious to you, at least one of the things that is going on is an ion channel disease, the result of which is sensory overload in autism.  By chance, some people have stumbled upon magnesium supplementation as a therapy.  The extra magnesium is making whatever potassium there is in that person’s diet more effective, and hence reducing their symptoms.  Since the condition is actually Hypokalemic Sensory Overload, they would do even better to add some extra potassium as well.

The sulphur part may, or may not be, a red herring.  Sadly there are many of them in autism.

I have completed this part of my autism investigation.  If you want to treat autistic sensory overload, that seems to affect almost all people with ASD and most with ADHD, the options are:-

1.     Reduce the body’s daily loss of potassium and magnesium, with a potassium sparing diuretic, like Spironolactone
2.     Increase consumption of potassium and magnesium in diet.  Bananas, oranges and kiwis are rich in potassium, for example.

3.     Use small doses of oral potassium and magnesium supplements throughout the day

4.     Use expensive transdermal magnesium treatments.  Nobody seems to make a potassium version.

5.     Take a soak in the bath with an added cup of Epsom salts.

There should be a second reason to try option (1).  For entirely unrelated reasons, this drug is proposed to help in autism due to its secondary anti-inflammatory and hormonal effects.
Spironolactone might be a desirable immunologic and hormonal intervention in autism spectrum disorders
 I have to say that, having done my field research, I will be sticking with (2), (3) and the occasional (5)



  1. Hi Peter,

    So is Sulfur metabolism in ASD abnormal? Rosemary Waring says so but does anybody else? If so, what can be done to ameliorate the effects of abnormal pathways?

    As you mention Epsom salts are being tried but Taurine gets a mention as having an anti-opioid effect?

    Does taking NAC exert any influence ? Positive or negative with respect to cysteine? How can Taurine help? Is there anything else that can help?

    I ask this as restricting our child's selection of food is positively influencing his behaviour and particularly the "opioid-effect" behaviour and the uncontrolled laughter but it's difficult to pin-down.


    1. Nobody seems to have followed up on Rosemary Waring's work. There are many dead-ends in autism research.

      Oxidative stress affects numerous processes and is well worth controlling. NAC is used by some cardiologists to lower homocysteine. Betaine is also used many some people with oxidative stress and/or high homocysteine.

      Many things appear high/low in autism, but much of this is totally irrelevant. Like the level of metals in hair.

      If eating affects your child's behavior you might consider a hypoglycemic diet. It would not help my son, but if eating worsens your son's behavior, it might be related to how he deals with surges in blood glucose levels.

      Some people do seem to benefit.


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