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Salt therapy ✤

– an ancient healing method rediscovered

While an excessive salt intake is associated with some health conditions, salt is actually healthy, especially in its natural state. Small amounts are essential for maintaining the body’s electrolyte balance. Furthermore, it’s been shown empirically that breathing in fine salt particles helps respiratory disorders.

by Martin Oliver

and religious rituals. There are frequent references to it in the Old Testament, including that of Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back to see the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In addition to being one of the earliest food seasonings, it was also an essential method of food preservation. While an excessive salt intake is


associated with several health conditions including stroke and high blood pressure, it is a myth that salt is intrinsically unhealthy; small amounts are essential for maintaining the body’s electrolyte balance. The salt we are familiar with as table salt is

a processed and refined product that contains nothing other than sodium chloride and a few additives. Natural sea salt, on the other hand, tastes a little bitter due to the presence of magnesium and calcium, and contains a range of other trace minerals. Himalayan salt, with its distinct pinkish colour, is claimed to contain a total of 84 minerals, and is often considered to be one of the healthiest to eat.

DOWN THE SALT MINES However, salt is also claimed to offer further remarkable health benefits, and what is known as salt therapy is gaining devotees. It is known to date back to time of Hippocrates, the celebrated Ancient Greek physician, who considered that the inhalation of steam from salt water was very beneficial for bronchial and lung disorders. In more recent times, the benefits of salt

exposure came to light in the salt mines of Eastern Europe in the early 19th century. Found in Poland, Romania, Austria and Ukraine, these were formed in prehistoric times as a result of the evaporation of ancient lakes and seas. The town of Wieliczka in southern

The town of Praid in Romania has a salt mine with large underground cavities that are now used for healing and community activities

12 JULY 2011

Poland is a major salt centre with a huge mine, which from 1826 onwards included brine baths for treating 36 different diseases. In 1843, a Polish doctor named

alt is a substance that has an important place in human history. It was one of the earliest commodities to be traded, and is the subject of many superstitions

Felix Boczkowski made the important observation that salt miners never suffered from respiratory conditions, and were in good health despite their arduous work. Later, during World War II, a salt cave

near the German town of Ennepetal was used as a protection against heavy bombing. Those with respiratory conditions were cured, while healthy people strengthened their immunity and never caught colds. The reason for all these remarkable

outcomes is considered to be fine aerosol microparticles of salt, in some cases mixed together with those of other minerals including calcium, magnesium and sulphates. The range of conditions that advocates claim can be helped by salt includes asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and cystic fibrosis. Major causes of respiratory disorders include smoking, the inhalation of smoke from cooking fires in less developed countries, and industrial pollution, particularly in China. In Central and Eastern Europe, spas

have traditionally played a major role in the healing culture. With an emphasis on rest, clean air, exercise and boosting well-being, they have championed a low- intervention, holistic alternative to drug- orientated mainstream Western medicine. Speleotherapy, a word derived from the Latin word for ‘cave’, involves taking spa visitors into salt mines; today, Wieliczka even has its own salt mine sanatorium. The town of Praid in Romania has a salt mine with large underground cavities that are now used for healing, and include a church, school, and playground, hospital, and Internet caf. Across Eastern Europe, sports teams regularly train in salt caves to improve lung function as a means of maximising sports performance. Russia has led research into the

effectiveness of salt mines in dealing with asthma and bronchitis. However scientific tests have been hampered by various challenges. Each chamber in a mine has its unique microclimate, and healing can be boosted by other factors including the quiet setting and high humidity. Often a person will combine speleotherapy with other modalities. There have been criticisms that in some cases the tests were badly designed, but their quality is improving, and the results look favourable.

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