The surprising health benefits of salt therapy
Although salty foods often get a bad rap when it comes to your health, salt therapy has some surprising benefits.
Salt therapy, also known as halotherapy, is a treatment that involves inhaling small salt particles in a controlled environment called a halochamber, according to Payel Gupta, MD, a national spokesperson for the American Lung Association and an allergy, asthma and immunology physician at ENT & Allergy Associates in New York City. The salt sauna treatments, which cost about $45 per session, are often done in rooms made of pink Himalayan salt bricks.
"This room is designed to replicate the natural microclimate of a salt cave," Gupta tells Yahoo Lifestyle. "The unique characteristics of the microclimate within these natural caves are stable air temperature, moderate to high humidity and the presence of fine aerosol elements — sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium — as well as a lack of airborne pollutants and pollens."
The treatment has been touted to help relieve respiratory conditions such as asthma, cystic fibrosis and COPD, along with improving skin conditions, such as eczema and dermatitis. However, more evidence-based research is needed to back up those claims.
"There are a lot of theories on why this therapy might be helpful — from the tiny salt particles being inhaled killing off microorganisms in the lungs to reducing inflammation and decreasing mucus, or a mixture of these hypotheses," says Gupta. "We do know that salt has anti-inflammatory properties, and we have seen this in patients who have inflammation in their nasal passages — doing nasal salt water rinses with a clean salt solution has shown anti-inflammatory benefits with these patients."
Sitting in a room surrounded by salt isn't the only way to reap the potential benefits. Another treatment is float therapy — a hit with celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence and Kristen Wiig. It involves floating in a dark, soundproof tank that's filled with warm salt water. Flotation tanks, which use 1,000 pounds of Epsom salts, can help reducestress and anxiety and ease back and joint pain.
"Because there's so much salt, your body just naturally and effortlessly floats on top of the water," Joel Granik, founder of Floating Lotus in New York City, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. "The temperature of the water is the same temperature as your body. After a few moments, you stop feeling the water itself. The effect is somewhat like floating in outer space."
Yahoo Lifestyle's Julie Tong tried flotation therapy and, even though she was skeptical at first, she now says she'll be back for more. "I had my doubts about floating in a pool of salt, but as soon as I stepped in, it was so relaxing, so Zen," Tong says. "I would 100 percent try it again."
The flotation treatment costs about $150 per session. If that's beyond your budget, you can get similar benefits by creating your own flotation therapy at home. Simply mix a few cups of Epsom salts.
While the jury is still out on whether they actually work, some say Himalayan salt lamps help keep the air cleaner at home and boost mood.