Salt stories

We speak to some doctors about it.

Have you ever heard of salt room therapy? It might sound like a relaxing spa or a sauna, involving lots of salt. But it is much more than that believe doctors, who swear by its miraculous powers.

Salt room therapy is actually a drug-free treatment that has been around for ages and is popular in many countries because of its alleged health benefits. A spell in the salty confines of such grottos offers all kinds of health benefits, from relieving asthma to improving blood circulation and lowering blood pressure. We speak to some doctors about it.

So, what is it really?
Dry salt therapy or halotherapy is performed in a spacious cave-like room with salt-coated walls and floor. Salt is then released into the room in a controlled manner, which penetrates deep into the lungs, releasing mucus. The person comes out feeling invigorated and with clearer lungs.

This is down to the incredible properties of salt, which is rich in minerals such as iodine, potassium and bromide, said doctors. While we usually get its benefits by eating it, we can also absorb them by sitting in a room full of it.

Speaking from experience
Director of one of the first organisations to start salt therapy in India and former general surgeon, Dr Ravi Prakash, explains, “Every time I got off a long flight, I found it difficult to breathe and more susceptible to infections. Planes tend to have a lot of pollutants inside the confined environment and my immune levels were probably low. But halotherapy made me feel a whole lot better.”

Simple science
Explaining the science behind how it works, he says, “It is the mucus inside our lungs that impairs our breathing capacity. When salt gets inside, it dilutes the mucus and expels it. We start to breathe better, which improves the oxygen levels in our blood.” This improved blood circulation, in turn, makes our immune levels stronger. “It would make 99 percent of people feel good unless someone has an underlying pathology such as chronic disease where the lungs are consolidated,” added Dr Prakash.

Why is it not a trend yet?
Though the therapy has caught on in other parts of the world such as the UK and the US, it is still relatively new in India. Paediatric dentist Dr Balaji Gupta, who started a salt therapy business two years ago, had to shut it down due to a lack of awareness. But he still swears by it. Salt, he said, is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, loosens mucus and speeds up mucociliary transport and removes airborne pollution. It also has moisturising properties, which is great for some skin conditions.

Dr Prakash added that it was at a dinner inside a salt cave in Krakow, Poland that he learnt that nobody working in a salt mine has ever suffered from a lung disorder. “It is an age-old therapy that was used all over the world by the kings and the elite. Unfortunately, people believe in medicines and want quick results but it is especially beneficial in cities, polluted with dust, smoke and allergens. The allergies can be neutralised to a great extent and carbon in the lungs reduced.” It is suitable for anyone over one-year-old.

What does research into halotherapy say?
While a 2007 NCBI study on “The effect of a dry salt inhaler in adults with COPD,” found people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) had fewer symptoms and improved quality of life after the therapy, a separate 2014 study concluded that most studies on halotherapy for COPD are flawed. Almost all research on the treatment for depression or skin conditions are anecdotal, which means it’s based on people’s personal experiences.

Alleged benefits of salt rooms
Ease smoking-related symptoms, such as a cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Treat depression and anxiety. Cure some skin conditions, such as psoriasis, eczema, and acne.

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