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News - Salt therapy - what are the benefits?

By Suzie Sawyer DipION MBANT NTC

For centuries, salts have been used as folk remedies by different cultures in many regions around the world. However, research suggests that the potential benefits of salt therapy may have far-reaching health benefits, especially for our modern day lives. 

Have you ever wondered why people with respiratory problems visit seaside locations where there is humid, salty air in order to find relief? Clearly, they know their symptoms improve in these locations. For many thousands of years, people have also visited curative mines in Wieliczka in Poland, Hallein in Austria or Praid in Romania in order to inhale the salt brine vapour. Natural salt can also be found in more exotic locations, such as the Himalayas, the Dead Sea and the Celtic Seas. Indeed, a study carried out in Finland(1) investigated the effects of salt chamber treatment as an add-on therapy in asthmatics and found a significant improvement in their forced expiratory volume (FEV1).

Every day, we hear how global warming, increased pollution from cars and air traffic and poor air quality are contributing to an increase in the number of people suffering from breathing difficulties, some of whom are resorting to inhalers and steroids for relief. Hay fever, asthma and other respiratory disorders are on the increase. There are over 4.1 million GP asthma consultations in England and Wales each year. From a naturopathic viewpoint, therefore, using nature’s natural ingredients makes enormous sense.

Salt-rich air carries micron-sized particles of salt which, when inhaled, penetrate the respiratory system to achieve beneficial effects. The sodium content of the active ingredient induces natural self-cleansing mechanisms that flush away the impurities from the surface of the cells and the salt particles and also mechanically clean the air passages, calming and cleansing the cells of the respiratory system.

Conversely, in nutritional terms, salt, and its potential negative effects on health, have long been accepted. However, as an alternative therapy, it appears to have some very useful and positive benefits. In a small study carried out within the salt mines(2), in people with bronchial asthma, an increase in the number of T-lymphocytes, normalisation in the number of B-lymphocytes, increase in IgA and reduction in IgM was found. The study concluded that patients with bronchial asthma had a reduced number of T-lymphocytes and reduced IgA at the beginning of the treatment.

A study was carried out in the salt chambers of Kinga Spa in Wieliczka on patients suffering from allergic rhinitis(3). In the study, 42 patients suffering with atopic and non-atopic rhinitis were submitted to the salt chambers for 24 days. In the study, 20 patients had a pollen or dust mite allergy and 22 had non-atopic rhinitis with recurrent nasal polyposis. At the end of the trial, significant improvements were noted that were not specific to the type of rhinitis. Nasal symptoms, such as running and blocked nose and sneezing, resolved during the stay of the patient, an increase in the peak nasal expiratory flow was connected with the decrease in nasal mucosal oedema, and smell disturbances disappeared in the patients together with a decrease in mucosal oedema. It was summarised that these changes were as a direct result of the influence of the salt chambers’ microclimate on the cells’ osmolarity disturbances in the nasal mucosa, provoked by non-infectious chronic inflammation.

A clinical trial was also carried out by the Royal College of General Practitioners Research Unit, on the effectiveness of using an actual salt pipe among 50 people with COPD, asthma bronchiale, asthma allergica or rhinitis allergica. Subjects were tested after using either a placebo or a salt pipe for 15 minutes, three times a day for three weeks. The results were unequivocal. Fifty-six per cent of the patients showed a significant improvement of FEV1, 73.9% indicated a positive response to the number of breathing incidents they would normally have encountered, 65.4% reported improvement in night coughing and 65.2% reported an improvement in free expectoration. The improvements seemed to be noted from day three of the treatment. Salt pipe therapy seems to be effective in sufferers of hay fever and other allergies, asthma and COPD, colds, infections, snoring and for problems caused by smoking.

Time and time again, we are reminded that ancient folk remedies are invaluable in supporting the lifestyles of people in the modern age.

Article References

1. Hedman J, Hugg T, Sandell J, Haahtela T. The effect of salt chamber treatment on bronchial hyperresponsiveness in asthmatics. Allergy. 2006 May; 61 (5): 605-10. 2. Simionka IuM, Chonka IaV, Pop IL. Effect of microclimate of salt mines on T- and B-lymphocyte function in bronchial asthma patients. Vrach Delo. 1989 Mar; (3): 57-9. 3. Obtulowicz K, Skladzien J, Michalak J, Gawlik , Wroblewska I. The efficacy of subterranean therapy in the salt chamber of Kinga Spa in Wieliczka for patients suffering from allergic rhinitis. Przegl Lek. 1999; 56(12): 760-2.

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