Food & Nutrition

Salt Therapy: How It Benefits Breathing, Plus the Skin & Immune System

Written by eLifeHack

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You may already be using Pink Himalayan salt on your food, but have you ever tried salt therapy? There are actually several ways you can reap the benefits of salt therapy at home or at a salt therapy spa.

Is it bad to inhale salt? One of the best health benefits of salt therapy is said to be its ability to help you breathe better. According to the Lung Institute, salt’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties combined with its ability to help remove airborne pathogens while decreasing allergic reactions makes it a great therapeutic choice for people with asthma, bronchitis and even COPD. (1)

Before you visit your nearest salt therapy spa, let’s talk about all of the potential benefits of this ancient practice and more forms of incredible salt therapy.


What Is Salt Therapy?

Salt therapy comes in several forms that can be divided into two main categories: wet salt therapy or dry salt therapy.

Wet salt therapy includes the use of neti pots, salt centric gargling mixtures, salt scrubs, soaking in salt water baths and internal salt water flushes.

What is dry salt therapy? It’s a form of salt therapy in an environment that has no moisture or humidity. Dry salt therapy takes place in a space that is often referred to as a “salt cave,” but a salt spa might also call it their “salt therapy room.”

Dry salt therapy is also called halotherapy or speleotherapy. According to the Salt Therapy Association, speleotherapy takes place below the Earth’s surface in naturally occurring salt caves and mines. Halotherapy, on the other hand, is a form of dry salt therapy that uses man-made salt caves created through the use of a halogenerator that disperses a dry salt aerosol into the salt “cave” or room. So with both forms of salt cave therapy, you are breathing in salty air but speleotherapy is naturally occurring salt while halotherapy uses natural salt that is pumped into a man-made environment. (2)

Other forms of dry salt therapy include salt inhalers and salt lamps. These forms of salt therapy at home are easy to do and not too pricey.

What is a salt inhaler? How do you use a salt inhaler? A salt inhaler, also called a salt pipe, is a small, ceramic device that you fill with with pink Himalayan salt crystals. To use the inhaler, you put your mouth on the mouthpiece and deeply inhale through your month. A salt inhaler is used as an alternative therapy for respiratory concerns.

So how does a salt lamp work? A real Himalayan salt lamp is a solid block of Himalayan salt that has been hand-carved and in the hollowed-out center is a light bulb that gives off both light and heat. Since salt is hygroscopic (attracts water molecules), it can attract water molecules along with any indoor air pollutants like mold, bacteria and allergens. When the water vapor meets the salt lamp surface, the pollutants are believed to remain trapped within the salt. Just beware of the salt lamp hoax and learn how to spot real (Himalayan salt lamp) vs fake salt lamps.


How Does Salt Therapy Work?

The main idea behind all salt therapy is that by coming in contact with salt — through some form of wet or dry salt therapy — you can enhance your health and well-being. Salt water soaks and salt room therapy are also known for being highly relaxing and stress-reducing.

So why can salt therapy have positive effects on the body? According to the Lung Institute, salt has some incredible properties including: (3)

  • Antibacterial
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Loosens excessive mucus and speeds up mucociliary transport
  • Removes pathogens (ie., airborne pollen)
  • Reduces IgE level (immune system oversensitivity)

4 Major Benefits of Salt Therapy

What are the benefits of salt therapy?

1. Respiratory Ailments

The theory behind dry salt therapy and its ability to improve respiratory problems is that the salt helps to decrease inflammation and open up airway passages while helping to get rid of allergens and toxins from the respiratory system.

According to the Salt Therapy Association, many people who make halotherapy a part of their “wellness routine” may find relief from several respiratory health conditions including:

The Salt Therapy Association also points out that “for respiratory conditions low concentration and gradual administration of dry salt and consistency of the sessions are the key elements for successful results.” (4)

Is there any science to back this all up? A double-blind, controlled, pilot study published in 2017 looked at the effects of halotherapy on young children (ages 5–13 years) with a clinical diagnosis of mild asthma who were not receiving any anti-inflammatory therapy.

Twenty nine children had 14 sessions of halotherapy in  salt room with a halogenerator over the course of seven weeks while the other 26 were put in a salt room without a salt halogenerator. The group that received halotherapy exhibited a “statistically significant improvement” in bronchial hyper-responsiveness (BHR) and overall, the researchers conclude that a salt room with halogenerator may have some beneficial effects in mild asthmatic children. (5)

Multiple studies also demonstrate the positive effects of halotherapy on patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases such as chronic bronchitis and asthma. Improvements in lung function and decreases in blood pressure have specifically been observed. (6, 7, 8)

Another example of salt therapy benefiting respiratory problems is a 2008 study which found that inhaling a three percent saline solution is a safe and effective form of treatment for infants with bronchiolitis, a common lung infection in young children and infants. (9)

2. Skin Conditions

Making dry salt therapy a regular practice is said to possibly help people with various skin conditions including: (10)

Wet salt therapy has also been shown in scientific research to improve skin hydration, skin roughness and skin redness making it a great option for people with eczema and other dry skin conditions. A study published in the International Journal of Dermatology had volunteers with atopic dry skin submerge one of their forearms in a bath solution containing five percent Dead Sea salt for 15 minutes while their other arm was submerged in tap water as a control.

What were the results? The arms bathed in salt water experienced improvements in skin barrier function and stratum corneum hydration as well as decreases in skin roughness and inflammation. The researchers mainly attributed the skin benefits of the Dea Sea salt soak to its rich magnesium content. (11)

3. Immune System Booster

There’s good reason why salt is commonly used in food preservation — the antimicrobial properties of salt (NaCl) are extremely impressive. Research has shown that salt reduces bacterial contamination in food from the following bacteria that causes major sickness in humans: Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimuriumStaphylococcus aureus and Listeria monocytogenes. (12)

Studies also demonstrate halotherapy’s ability to boost the immune system. Research conducted to find out the benefits of halotherapy as part of a combined treatment approach for chronic bronchitis patients found that in addition to improved lung function, there were also normalized measurements of reduced immunity. (13)

4. Reduce Inflammation

Research conducted at The University of Manchester demonstrates another major benefit of salt — its ability to reduce inflammation, which is huge since we know that inflammation is at the root of most diseases. (14)

According to the research using animal subjects, a hypertonic solution (a solution with an elevated concentration of salt) “can ease inflammation purely through bathing in it.” The salty liquid was also shown to reduce inflammation when applied via bandages.

It seems as though the hypertonic solution produces an osmotic gradient through the skin. An osmotic gradient is a pressure caused by water molecules that forces water to move from areas of high water potential to areas of low water potential. The researchers point out that this explains why salty hot springs are known to improve pain associated with inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. (15)


History of Salt Therapy

Halotherapy comes from the Greek word for salt which is “halo.” Salt therapy is a newer practice in the U.S., but it’s been used in places like Europe for hundreds of years. It’s said that European monks started using salt therapy centuries ago when they noticed that respiratory ailments improved faster after spending time in natural salt caverns. In written records from the 12th century, there is also one of the first mentions of spa resorts featuring salt water mineral baths in Poland. (16)

In the the 1840s, a Polish physician named Dr. Felix Bochkowsky noticed that metal and coal miners had a tendency to experience severe respiratory problems, but salt miners tended to be healthier than most people. This lead Dr. Bochkowsky to publish a book about the health benefits of salt dust.

Fast forward to World War II when German salt mines were used as bomb shelters. When there were bombings, people would have to stay in the mines for long amounts of time breathing in all that salt dust. The good news? When people with breathing problems left the salt shelters, they supposedly could breathe much easier.


Salt Caves

Salt caves are also called salt rooms or salt chambers. How does a salt room work? Dry salt room therapy includes spending time relaxing in a man-made environment breathing in salt-infused air.  The dry salt therapy can either be in an active salt room or a passive salt room. The active room uses a halogenerator to put micro-particles of salt into the air of an enclosed space so that you can then breathe it in and also so that your skin can come in contact with the salt. This variety of dry salt therapy is called halotherapy.

Passive salt rooms (speleotherapy) are also man-made, but instead of using a halogenerator to put salt into the environment, they fill the space with large quantities of salt. The idea is to simulate natural salt caves like those found in Europe.

Man-made salt caves can use various types of sea salt. Many choose to use pink sea salt. Where does pink sea salt come from? True Pink Himalayan sea salt comes from salt mines 5,000 feet deep below the Himalayan Mountain Range. The salt can be pink, red or white, and all of the colors are indicative of its impressive natural mineral content.


Precautions

Salt therapy side effects from halotherapy have been known to include a slight cough, minor tightness in the chest or runny nose, which salt therapy providers typically say is a result of the salt doing its work to remove mucus and toxins from the lungs and airways.

Halotherapy is not recommended for people with a fever, contagious disease, open wounds, cancer, severe hypertension, mental disorders or active tuberculosis.

If you’re pregnant or have any health concerns, talk to your doctor before trying halotherapy or any other form of salt therapy.

Are there any other salt therapy dangers? According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: “Inhaling concentrated salts (hypertonic saline) has been proven to irritate the airways, causing cough and mucus, which can make asthma worse for some people. Halotherapy, or sitting in a salt room, is not likely to make your asthma better. For most asthma patients, halotherapy is ‘likely safe.’ Since you don’t know how you will react, AAFA warns that it is best to err on the side of caution and avoid salt rooms.” (17)


Key Points

  • Salt therapy can be divided into two main categories: wet and dry.
  • Wet salt therapy includes the use of neti pots, salt centric gargling mixtures, salt scrubs, soaking in salt water baths and internal salt water flushes. Dry salt therapy includes salt lamps, salt inhalers and salt caves (halotherapy and speleotherapy).
  • Salt therapy benefits may include improvement in respiratory conditions and skin problems as well as increased immune system health and lowered inflammation.
  • Many doctors remain skeptical about salt therapy benefits, but first hand accounts as well as scientific studies point towards the numerous benefits of salt therapy.
  • If you’re interested in trying halotherapy or another form of salt therapy for a chronic health problem, talk to your doctor to see if this form of drug-free therapy is a good option for you.

Read Next: 5 Potential Benefits of Cryotherapy, Including Pain Relief

The post Salt Therapy: How It Benefits Breathing, Plus the Skin & Immune System appeared first on Dr. Axe.

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