Don’t Hold The Salt, Breathe It!

by Guest Author Matthew Walsh, General Manager of The Salt Sanctuary at The Spa at Traditions

Newspaper headlines roll out in mid 2011 announcing new initiatives to lower the salt intake of those living in the Southern Tier.  Meanwhile, far from the headlines a small group of salt enthusiasts begin development of what they hope will soon change the image of salt across the region…

Salt has gained such a bad reputation over the years. With heart disease still the leading cause of death in our country, and evidence that salt consumption is related to high blood pressure, it’s no surprise salt continues to be despised so. However, people overlook some very unique properties that make salt special, and contrary to popular belief, actually a substance that heals instead of hurts the body. Salt is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. It is a mineral the body needs to function, plain and simple, and when broken down into its component ions it has shown to provide immune system benefits and even mental stimulation. Enter “salt therapy,” or “halotherapy.”  It is a centuries old form of healing recently imported to the States from Eastern Europe. It was first discovered in the salt mines of Krakow, Poland, by physicians who were dumbfounded by the fact that the miners were some of the healthiest individuals in their communities.  Clearly this was in stark contrast to those dusty gentlemen who spent their days in the coal pits.  Studies by those physicians would later show that the unique “micro-climate” in the salt caves was what was causing the good health.

In recent years as our population has increasingly embraced homeopathic remedies to illness, the salt therapy phenomenon has taken hold and has grown rapidly… changing the long damaged reputation of sodium chloride.  The Southern Tier of New York, a region long known as “Sinus Valley” was recently introduced to this foreign concept by the opening of Salt Sanctuary, at Traditions at the Glen in Johnson City.  Since first taking appointments in mid September, 2011 the staff of Salt Sanctuary have witnessed miraculous changes in their client’s conditions…
Asthmatics abandoning their inhalers, month long sinus infection sufferers walking away relieved and astonished, emphysema and bronchitis patients breathing better, sleeping better, and taking on activities they we’re previously unable to do.  The local doctors are starting to take notice.

A preventative therapy exalted in Europe, a salt therapy session has been known to “nip in the bud” the onset of seasonal sicknesses such as cold and flu, quickly relieve and even suppress respiratory allergy symptoms and help those with chronic conditions substitute daily inhalers and other traditional medications with natural salt.

Well, “prove it” they say.  To date, most research on the effectiveness of salt therapy comes from Russia. While this research was comprehensive and demonstrated positive results, the medical communities of the West required more convincing. Then, two studies published in 2006 drew a great deal of attention. One, presented by the New English Journal of Medicine about cystic fibrosis patients who underwent a year of salt aerosol inhalation demonstrated that test subjects showed increased lung capacity and improved lung functioning. The other study published that same year by the European Respiratory Journal showed “decreased bronchial hyper-responsiveness” of asthmatics who similarly breathed in salt air. These two studies have since led the credibility of salt therapy as it made landfall here in the States.  Odds are, new research will soon reveal itself State-side as this therapy continues to take hold.

So, how does it work then? The patient’s salt therapy experience is quite simple really, but the mechanism of how those salt particles work their magic is a bit more complicated.  Individuals recline in a chair and relax in a room completely covered in salt from floor to ceiling.  Due to the salt surroundings, the room is very anti-bacterial and has a very low humidity.  For at least 50 minutes salt aerosol is generated and pumped into the room with the help of a machine called a “halogenerator.”  Clients breathe deeply and the salt goes to work. Research suggests that the salt reaches down deep into the airways and has several benefits, including the break down of mucous and rough tissue, killing of infections, reduction of inflammation and stimulation of the immune system’s response in respiratory linings as well and even the skin.  Clearly, there’s a lot going on in those airways as the person kicks back and relaxes.

Salt therapy arrives at a time when our country is increasingly embracing holistic and homeopathic forms of wellness, due in part to the side effects and steep costs of traditional medicine.  Yet to be seen is whether the United States healthcare industry will start providing insurance coverage for this treatment, like the medical authorities now do in countries of Eastern Europe and Israel.  What is becoming more evident, however is that the industry may start rewarding those who practice preventative medicine, and this is a good sign for salt therapy.  Such is the mentality of several residents of “Sinus Valley” in the Southern Tier who recently gave it a go with salt therapy at Salt Sanctuary.  Mothers say they want to keep their kids off drugs as much as possible these days. They see more and more children carrying inhalers to school and onto playground and this worries them that our future generations may become more and more dependent on medications with adverse side effects.

In the course of a year the owners of Salt Sanctuary have witnessed a sparsely scattered industry of eight salt rooms explode into over 30 salt therapy clinics and spas around the country.  While some of these operations are simple rooms with salted walls, others are more elaborately designed facilities like The Salt Cave in Naples, Florida which looks very much like a real salt mine.  Salt Sanctuary went all out to create a Himalayan salt cave that closely resembles an underground salt cavern one might discover in nature. Their facility also includes a hyper-modern salt room, designed with a marker wall and beach toys for children.  While salt therapy is the primary function of these spaces, the owners developed a sensual lighting and sound system to enhance the experience for those who are healthy individuals simply seeking relaxation… a form of healing in its own right.  The owners of Salt Sanctuary hope to change the paradigm of wellness in their region from one of drug relief, to preventative naturopathy. So far it’s been working, and only time will tell if salt therapy is the start of a greater wellness trend in our country.

To learn more about the history and mechanics of salt therapy, visit www.thesaltsanctuary.com or contact the General Manager directly at (607)222-1879.

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