by Charmaine Noronha
While most North Americans have grown up to believe that adding salt to food is bad for blood pressure, among other negatives, breathing in salt can be beneficial due to its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also reputed to cleanse the respiratory system and calm the nerves.
“Salt is born of the purest parents: the sun and the sea.” ~ Pythagoras
While salt caves are a relatively new concept in North America, salt therapy (also known as halotherapy or speleotherapy) was first noted in a book published by Polish doctor Felix Boczkowski in 1843. A physician at the Polish Salt Mine in Wieliczka, near Krakow, Dr. Boczkowski wrote that the miners had much lower incidences of respiratory conditions while working in the salt mines. In other evidence, during World War II, residents of Ennepetal, German were using Klutert Cave as a bomb shelter. They found that they were coughing less and breathing easier with each air raid. Later, it was confirmed by scientists that many of those using the cave as a bomb shelter were cured of their asthma, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory tract conditions.
According to Dr. Mindy Beck of Santa Barbara, California, salt caves were used in the 1940s to 1960s to treat European uranium miners who suffered from ailmentssuch as emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis and chronic lung conditions. In her naturopathic practice in the California seaside city, Dr. Beck uses salt therapy to help relieve afflictions such as asthma, allergies, sinusitis, bronchitis, insomnia and eczema. At Salt, Santa Barbara’s underground Himalayan salt cave, Dr. Beck’sclients sit in a regulated micro-climate of dry, salty air for 60-minute sessions. The frequency of their visits depends on the severity of their conditions. One of the largest man-made salt caves in North America, the Santa Barbara Salt Cave – also offers a variety of Himalayan salt products to continue salt-based therapies at home.
Man-made salt caves often use mineral-rich Himalayan salt, as well as salt from the Dead Sea and/or Poland or Germany. An instrument called a Halogenerator diffuses the salt – comprised of positive sodium ion and negative chloride ion – into the air. While breathing in the salty air of a therapy room, salt molecules enter the moist airways of the lungs, releasing negative ions.
Why does salt therapy seem to work? Dr. Beck explains that asthma and other conditions that affect the lungs occur because there’s too much mucous production. The ionized salt particles act like little scrubbers to help the body expel the extra mucous. The salt reduces inflammation in the lungs and helps combat bacterial infections. It alleviates symptoms, helps prevent them from reoccurring and reduces dependence on medications like nasal sprays and inhalers. The airborne salt that works on airways also clears up a variety of skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema.
For those who suffer from chronic conditions, salt therapy can also help reduce the stress load on the nervous system. “Any time you can relax the body, it will help put the body back into a parasympathetic mode, which is when our automatic nervous system is in a calm state. This is where we can digest properly, where we can think properly, where our organ systems can best function and heal,” says Dr. Beck. “Salt also works on the microbial level so it helps to reduce the load of infections to help boost our immune system.”
Magda Rutkowska, manager, at the Salt Cave Wellness Centre in Mississauga, Ontario adds that the magnesium, potassium and bromine present in salt helps lower high blood pressure but warns that people with low blood pressure should check with their doctor first. She adds that people with thyroid problems, those with low levels of iron and those who suffer from depression, can all benefit from salt cave’s minerals and negative ions which can help improve mood, increase energy levels, reduce stress and alleviate headaches.
Here are a few places to experience salt therapy:
About 22 km (about 13 miles) from Salzburg, Austria, in Germany’s Bavarian Alps, the Salt Healing Cavern Berchtesgaden offers tours, dinners and overnight stays.
Santa Barbara, California
Salt in downtown Santa Barbara, offers two underground Himalayan salt caves.
AUNESCO World Heritage site and one of the oldest mines still operating, the Wieliczka salt mine allows visitors to tour the underground labyrinth of caverns and galleries with carved rock salt sculptures.
The Salt Chamber at Axios LifeStyle Spa in Tallahassee, Florida.
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