Halotherapy is, literally, therapy using salt–whether applied to the skin, or a wound, ingested or inhaled.
History of halotherapy
The practice stretches back more than 3,000 years. In fact, “Halo” means salt in Ancient Greek. And the use of salt in treating illness and injury was something the father of medicine himself, Hippocrates, mentioned using.
Monks in Medieval Europe ran the “hospitals” and “clinics” of the time. When people were really sick and needed to be taken care of long-term, they often went to monasteries to do so. In Eastern Europe—what is now Poland, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus—these monks would utilize the naturally-occurring salt caves in the region for therapeutic reasons. They noticed that patients with respiratory and skin issues would very often get better. It was so apparent to these monks that many of them started grinding up salt against rocks and having patients inhale the dust when they were unable to make it to a salt cave.
The first documented case of halotherapy being examined by any sort of official health body was in Poland in the 1840s. At the time, the leading government bureaucrat in charge of occupational health—basically the equivalent of our Surgeon General—was a man named Dr. Felix Bochkowsky. Being Polish, Dr. Bochkowsky knew about the legends of halotherapy in his country and decided to look into it because, at the time, Poland and much of the world, was dealing with widespread respiratory issues stemming from worldwide coal mining operations. At the time, steam ships, steam trains, coal furnaces, coal-powered factories, etc. were powering the Industrial Revolution—which was great in a lot of ways—but one of the problems was that coal miners were getting things like black lung and just generally coughing and wheezing all the time.
In addition to mining for coal, Polish miners were mining salt out of the salt caves in their country, and Dr. Bochkowsky noticed salt miners weren’t exhibiting the same respiratory problems as other types of miners. Based on that observation, he made a study of halotherapy and its effects on coal and mineral miners. Also in the process, he found it was very helpful for tuberculosis patients as well.
Bochkowsky was so impressed that he published a report on halotherapy in 1843, and his successor, Dr. Mstislav Poljakowski, opened the first official halotherapy spa in Poland, right outside of Krakow, in a salt cave. It’s still in operation today.
Over the course of the next 150 years or so, halotherapy has become more and more popular. Soviet Russia was enamoured with it and sponsored several legitimate scientific studies on the health benefits of halotherapy. Unfortunately, this didn’t help the spread of acceptance of the practice in the West or the United States as anything coming from Soviet Russia was considered bad due to the cultural conditions of the Cold War. Nevertheless, the studies were very enlightening.
Science of halotherapy
A study in the Clinical Research Respiratory Center in St. Petersburg found halotherapy resulted in improvement of clinical state in 85% of mild and moderate asthma cases, 75% of severe asthma cases and 97% of chronic bronchitis and bronchiectasis cases.
Other studies and accounts have found that halotherapy is extremely helpful in cases of chronic bronchitis, breathlessness, chest tightness, pneumonia after acute stage bronchiectatic disease, cough (particularly at night or after exercise), wheezing, smokers’ cough (including secondary smoke), cough with viscous sputum, mucus plugs, mucosal edema, colds and influenza, sinusitis, rhinitis and respiratory allergies, allergies to industrial and household pollutants, frequent acute disorders of respiratory tract, respiratory infections, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, multi-chemical sensitivity syndrome, eczema, psoriasis, postoperative rehabilitation and recovery (aesthetic & sinus surgery)
How halotherapy helps
In some places, they are fortunate enough to have salt caves and salt mines in the region. Generally, people go and simply sit and relax in these caves. They breathe in microscopic salt dust and let it settle on their skin where it is absorbed into the bloodstream.
One of the reasons it works so well with respiratory conditions is that sodium chloride (the chemical name for salt) is a crucial component of the mucocellular membrane in the lungs. Basically, it’s essential for the regulation of mucus in the lungs and airways. But one of the issues with chronic lung conditions is that sodium chloride naturally decreases. That’s why most lung conditions come along with increased mucus production.
Halotherapy reintroduces sodium chloride into the lungs and airways, and particularly as it is microscopic or near-microscopic, it can enter the pulmonary system without having to be metabolized in the digestive system. It’s a quick delivery system with near-instant results.
For chronic conditions that last for years, things like COPD or asthma, it sometimes takes up to 30 sessions for things to clear up on a closer-to-permanent basis.
For less chronic conditions, such as infections like sinusitis or bronchitis, halotherapy helps as well because it is a natural antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal mineral. Think about it, nothing grows in salt. You can even kill the weeds in your yard with salt. So for bacterial, fungal and viral infections, it’s a powerful weapon.
But as I mentioned earlier, halotherapy—while being very helpful for lung issues—is also helpful for skin conditions as well.
Psoriasis and eczema are often (but not always) a symptom of autoimmunity. Salt is a natural anti-inflamatory. Salt does this by lowering IgE levels in the body, which is an antibody associated with a lot of autoimmune disorders.
It’s important to note that we’re not talking about table salt here. We’re talking about mineral salt that has to be mined out of the ground. Himalayan sea salt is probably the best options.
When you have mineral salt in your halotherapy, you get the benefits of the minerals present in the salt as well. Himalayan sea salt contains ~70 minerals other than salt. It’s a great mineral supplement as you will absorb things like potassium, calcium, magnesium, iodine, and dozens of trace minerals like iron, manganese, copper, zinc, cobalt and selenium.
With this comes the one potential side effect. Some people who have high blood pressure may find that halotherapy leaves them feeling a bit light-headed because such an influx of minerals can and does have an effect on blood pressure. It generally goes away within an hour or two. And if you have high blood pressure, it can actually be helpful in lowering it.
How to get halotherapy for yourself
Most of us aren’t anywhere near a natural salt cave, unfortunately, and even if we are, it’s unlikely it is being used for halotherapy. As a result, we have to go to salt spas.
Generally, how these work is that rooms are built with either salt bricks making up the entire walls or salt blocks form columns in the walls. The floor is covered with at least a few inches of medium-ground salt. There are comfy chairs. Generally, the room is kept quite cool. You get blankets and you simply sit and relax for 40-50 minutes where you can read a book or take a nap or meditate and get the benefits regardless.
For many spas, that’s the extent of it. You absorb ambient salt in the air that’s floating around. In the better spas, they will grind the salt to near-microscopic sizes and shoot it out into the air so it fills the atmosphere in the room. This enables you to breathe it in, and for it to be absorbed into the skin, at a greater rate.
Until recently, the most extensive salt spa near Charlotte was a two-hour drive to Asheville. But those days are over. In the Lake Norman area, in Cornelius, the Lake Norman Salt Spa has just opened its doors (full disclosure, my wife and I own the place 🙂
We have two salt rooms available: one that can hold 7 people at once, another that can hold 3 at once. We’ve imported morethan 12,000 lbs of Himalayan Sea salt straight from Pakistan. And yes, each room features a grinder that distributes salt into the air.
And we are in the process of lining up salt yoga, guided meditations and salt massages.
We would welcome you with open arms and would be more than happy to guide you to greater health using halotherapy. And while we’re at it, we’re currently running a special where if you buy one 50-minute session for $59, you get a second session at no charge.
See you there!