Epsom Salt May Cut Preemie's Palsy Risk

New research reveals the inexpensive salt may halve cerebral palsy risk.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 1:29 AM

Aug. 27, 2008— -- Premature babies face a number of health risks -- from anemia to brain damage.

But now doctors are turning a hopeful eye toward a common compound known as Epsom salt as a possible way to cut the risk of one of the many disorders for which preemies are at heightened risk -- cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy, or CP for short, is a disorder that affects movement, motor skills and muscle coordination because of brain damage caused during birth. There is currently no cure for the disorder, and treatment options have been shown to offer very limited success for cerebral palsy patients.

But a study released today in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that giving moms an infusion of magnesium sulfate -- better known as Epsom salt -- just before they go into premature labor might cut their child's risk for developing cerebral palsy by about a half.

The study looked at more than 2,200 pregnant women who were at high risk for premature birth. Half of the women were randomly assigned to receive an infusion of Epsom salt if they went into early labor, while the other half received a placebo infusion.

Researchers found that moderate or severe cerebral palsy occurred only half as often in the babies whose mothers received Epsom salt compared to those babies who were in the placebo group.

Moreover, researchers found that the rates of death between the two groups did not differ, suggesting that such infusions are a safe treatment option.

If correct, the finding could have major implications. The United Cerebral Palsy Foundation estimates that nearly 800,000 children and adults in the United States are living with one or more of the symptoms of cerebral palsy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10,000 babies are born with cerebral palsy in the United States each year.

Lead study investigator Dr. Dwight Rouse, professor and director of the Center for Women's Reproductive Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said this practice should be strongly considered for women at risk of delivering before 32 weeks.