Salt of the earth

A sprinkling of the natural healing properties of salt
Jules Torti
April 07, 2014
By
Growing up, our family lived in the country and had a well, which meant water usage was constantly being monitored by my dad. We longed for the urban excess of seemingly endless city water and all the joy that it entailed. We had no such luxuries, and bath time meant sharing bath water with two siblings and my parents.  

I’m not sure if we knew about Epsom salts back then. The 70s and 80s seem to revolve around those greasy bath oil beads that smelled like grandmothers: rose and lavender balls that melted away as you soaked and left your body feeling like you’d spent time in a deep fryer. When we were out of our pearly bath bead stock (usually a few months after a Christmas gift replenishment), Palmolive was a common go-to.  

A few months into the massage therapy college curricula (circa 1997), we were inundated with home care and the likes of remedial exercise and hydrotherapy. Epsom salts were kingpins in post-massage recovery and, by the power of persuasion and chemistry, I joined the marketing department. Here’s a refresher on why you should be nudging your clients to soak it up.

Cosmic powers of Epsom salt bath
Advising clients to take an Epsom salt bath post-treatment should be the default setting of every massage therapist’s home care spiel. Long praised for being an accessible and affordable detox for clients, there is scientific merit behind a hot bath. A beautiful blend of purpose and pleasure, an Epsom soak facilitates the healing properties of magnesium and sulfate.  

Epsom salts are easily absorbed through the skin, allowing the body to replenish magnesium stock lost to chronic stress, which elevates adrenaline levels. Magnesium also helps to boost serotonin and ATP (adenosine-triphosphate) production. The surreptitious soak decreases irritability, reduces inflammation and aids muscle and nerve function — all encouraged by the best outcome: a sound sleep.

Scrolling back to sleepy, pre-coffee break Hydrotherapy 101 classes, you may recall the cheerleading of magnesium and its tag team work with calcium, the main conductor of electrical impulses in our bodies. Teamed with magnesium, sulfates help flush toxins and heavy metals, and a simple bath is really a concrete lesson in reverse osmosis.  

Epsom salts deserve lots of applause beyond the bathtub. It is also known to aid with constipation (taken internally), soothe athlete’s foot and remove splinters, among other things.

Trending now: #saltcaves
Salt is an organic wonder that is 100 per cent drug-free. When I began exploring the saline theme for this feature I was surprised to learn how the halotherapy (salt therapy) industry is making a surge in Canada. But, halotherapy is no trend – it’s an age-old secret that Europeans have long relied upon. They have even bigger bragging rights – the salt caves.  

Dating back to the 16th century, the unique microclimate of salt caves were discovered in Poland. Locals, curious and receptive to natural healing, were drawn to the grottos where the mineralized air (calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, copper, bromine, iodine, fluorine) aided respiratory conditions, dermatological issues and allergic responses.

Naturally, always keen to emulate our fashion and foodie forward European friends, North America is finally getting on the salt cave bandwagon.

The man-made salt cave concept marries tradition, natural remedy and geology in the creation of inhalation chambers. Cave temperatures generally hover around 20 to 21 degrees Celsius. Clients are booked for 50-minute sessions that involve nothing more than “breathing easy” in a communal room/cave. The complementary approach to western medicine has provided an economic alternative for those with asthma, hypothyroidism and cystic fibrosis. Sessions at the salt cave in Mississauga are $15 to $35 (prices differ for children, adults and seniors). One can even schedule a massage inside the cave ($150) to enjoy the microelement-enhanced service.

At The Rock Spa in Waterloo, Ont., dry salt aerosol has been used for over 30 years in salt rooms that give a kick to cold and flu symptoms, sinus infections, emphysema and hay fever. The anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of the dry sodium chloride aerosol have also proven to be effective with ear infections, psoriasis, eczema and asthma. In Canada alone, over three million residents have asthma – a prevalence that has been climbing steadily in the last 20 years due to factors like chemical irritants in the workplace, tobacco smoke and smog. Prevalence rates are rising by 50 per cent every decade worldwide, according to the Asthma Society of Canada.  

Underground climatotherapy
Also known as “speleotherapy,” the notion of salt cave therapy is attributed to the observations of a physician in 1843, who found remarkably low incidences of respiratory issues in salt mine workers. Was the air saturated in saline dust a hidden, therapeutic connection?

In man-made salt caves like The Rock Spa, halogenerators (micro processors of dry saline aerosol) crush pharmaceutical grade salt grains into a breathable micrometer size. The walls and floor of the inhalation chamber are covered in rock salt (acting as moisture buffers and aseptic aids). The halogenerator (nebulizer) pushes air with the micro-crushed dry saline aerosol particles into the room, creating a super-saturated chamber of negatively charged particles of sodium chloride.

In Pathology 101, remember mucocellular clearance disturbance? The root pathogenic mechanism of obstructive lung disease gets a trifecta knock-out by halotherapy with its mucolytic, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating attack.

While halogenerators monitor temperature, humidity and aerosol concentration in a simulated cave environment, speleotherapy (underground climatotherapy) relies solely on the natural salt environment and is widely used in Russia and Eastern Europe as a complementary respiratory treatment. In Wieliczka, Poland, there is a long wait list for a respiratory hospital located in a giant salt mine. In Bochnia, Poland, there is a speleotherapy unit with an underground basketball court and sports field. A salt cave in Cluj County, Romania has a full-sized football pitch.  

One treatment per day for a period of two weeks allows for optimal results. A treatment that involves reclining in a zero-gravity chair in a cave-like room saturated with salt aerosol seems like a convincing approach to respiratory and systemic woes to me. But, maybe you’d rather soak?

Canada’s Dead Sea
Canada’s best-kept secret is a natural saltwater lake. Little Manitou Lake, near Watrous, is 100 kilometres southeast of Saskatooon.   

A few months ago, I attended Robin Esrock’s book launch at a local Chapters. His book, The Great Canadian Bucket List, harnesses the quirky and unknown experiences that Canada offers. As he narrated his adrenalin-laced encounters while researching the book, he instantly had me taking mental note as my inner GPS purred. Swimming with spawning salmon in B.C.? Eating $100 fish n’ chips at Bullocks’ Bistro in Yellowknife? Riding horseback with bison? Floating on Canada’s Dead Sea? How did I miss the memo on these geographic gems?

The healing properties of the lake (formed by a glacial spillway) are found in huge sodium, magnesium and potassium deposits. In the early 19th century, Assiniboines suffering from smallpox were purportedly cured by drinking the waters of and bathing in Manitou Lake.

Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa has capitalized on this buoyant idea. Unique to the Western hemisphere, but akin to the Dead Sea in Israel and Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, the lake has a gravity that is 10 per cent higher than regular water (but still half the floating powers of the Dead Sea). You can’t sink. The European-style mineral spa entices visitors to the resort with “three soothing temperature sections” from 94 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Braver, outdoorsy souls can jump right in the lake and enjoy the beach, while being smack dab in the Prairies.

Urban salt
In downtown Toronto, Body Blitz offers a therapeutic hydrotherapy-based circuit that also revolves around the nourishing benefit of sea salt – and sharing communal waters. Utilizing unrefined Dead Sea salt, both Body Blitz locations are warehouse conversions that house hot Epsom pools, salt water pool, cold plunge, Eucalyptus steam and infrared sauna facilities.  

Owners Laura and Rena Polley latched on to the studies of the Father of Medicine – Hippocrates. He discovered the therapeutic quality of seawater in the injured hands of fishermen. Seawater appeared to halt infection and encourage pain relief. Since then, the rest of the world has come to equate seawater with restored equilibrium, the elimination of toxins and replenishing the body with essential minerals.

What’s shaking? 
Himalayan sea salt is another term for rock salt, or halite. Mined from Khewra Salt Mines in Pakistan, 300 kilometres from the Himalayas, the salt is used for bath salts, curing fish and meats, and serving dishes. Larger crystal rocks are routinely turned into lamps for incandescent bulbs or candles. Though the scientific jury is out, salt lamp believers say heated salt crystals emit negative ions, giving some positive energy waves to the air.

Regardless of how you choose to embrace salt – truffles or tartare, on your margarita rim with lime, to soak in after a punishing run, or as the ultimate therapeutic chill-out session in a cave – it is a viable, multi-tasking ancient healing element at your disposal.

Pass the salt please.


Jules Torti is now a regular columnist for Massage Therapy Canada. Her column titled, Few and far between, explores the unique, the zany and the unusual side of massage therapy. Jules has been an RMT since 1999 and a freelance writer since age six. In between massage engagements, she travels to Africa to be with chimpanzees and writes about her travels for Matador Network.

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