Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Scientific Research on the use of Himalayan Salt

It wasn't long after the press release went out about Dr. Margaret Smiechowski's Himalayan salt cave opening in Pennsylvania that we started getting bombarded with requests for information from a self-appointed "watchdog" organization in that area whose members were concerned that the use of Himalayan salt in salt caves was a scam. Among other things, these people ridiculed the notion that salt could provide any real benefit, ridiculed Dr. Margaret's "foreign" education, and claimed that no scientific evidence exists to support the use of Himalayan salt. Further, they challenged us to produce even one study that shows beyond a reasonable doubt that there are statistically significant benefits to using the salt. 

The truth is that there are literally dozens of scientific studies that have been conducted over decades that show without any question that there are medical benefits to using Himalayan salt. If this is true, one might wonder why these organizations waste their time trying to discredit speleotherapy and halotherapy?

The answer to this question is fairly complicated. The main reason is because most of these studies were conducted in Europe and Asia and were published in scholarly journals in languages other than English. They are not translated into English and discussed in the US because in general we are putting our research dollars into more traditional, pharmaceutical-based research. Truthfully, Americans do not care about the research of salt. Those who have experienced its benefits do not need to see the multitude of studies that exist--they just know and believe. And those who will not believe no matter what do not want to see the studies. For those who are on the fence, we created this blog entry so you can see what research actually does exist.

Most of the dozens of clinical trials thus far, mainly reported in Russian-language journals, have focused on the use of speleotherapy or halotherapy as a treatment for asthma, chronic bronchitis, a range of respiratory conditions and potentially against systemic diseases. Clinical studies have also been published in the New England Journal of Medicine (2006) demonstrating that the inhalation of saline produces sustained mucus clearance and improved lung function in patients with Cistic Fibrosis. In 1995 the Journal of Aerosol Medicine reported significant improvements in patients with various types of respiratory diseases (bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive and non-obstructive bronchitis, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis) who were treated with halotherapy in a placebo-controlled clinical trial. Here is a small sample of some of the other relevant studies:

Chernenkov RA, Chernenkova EA, Zhukov GV.
The use of an artificial microclimate chamber (salt cave) in the treatment of patients with chronic obstructive lung diseases
Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult. 1997 Jul-Aug ;( 4):19-21. (Article in Russian)
PMID: 9424823

Chervinskaya AV, Zilber NA.
Halotherapy for treatment of respiratory diseases
J Aerosol Med. 1995 Fall;8(3):221-32.
PMID: 10161255

Gorbenko PP, Adamova IV, Sinitsyna TM.
Bronchial hyperreactivity to the inhalation of hypo- and hyperosmolar aerosols and its correction by halotherapy
Ter Arkh. 1996; 68(8):24-8. (Article in Russian)
PMID: 9019826

Grinshtein IuI, Shestovitskii VA, Kuligina-Maksimova AV.
Clinical significance of cytological characteristics of bronchial inflammation in obstructive pulmonary diseases
Ter Arkh. 2004; 76(3):36-9. (Article in Russian)
PMID: 15108456

Grigor'eva NV.
Halotherapy in combined non-puncture therapy of patients with acute purulent maxillary sinusitis
Vestn Otorinolaringol. 2003;(4):42-4. (Article in Russian)
PMID: 13677023

Abdrakhmanova LM, Farkhutdinov UR, Farkhutdinov RR.
Effectiveness of halotherapy of chronic bronchitis patients
Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult. 2000 Nov-Dec ;( 6):21-4. (Article in Russian)
PMID: 11197648

Maev EZ, Vinogradov NV.
Halotherapy in the combined treatment of chronic bronchitis patients
Voen Med Zh. 1999 Jun; 320(6):34-7, 96. (Article in Russian)
PMID: 10439712

Chervinskaia AV.
The scientific validation and outlook for the practical use of halo-aerosol therapy
Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult. 2000 Jan-Feb ;( 1):21-4. (Article in Russian)
PMID: 11094875

Farkhutdinov UR, Abdrakhmanova LM, Farkhutdinov RR.
Effects of halotherapy on free radical oxidation in patients with chronic bronchitis
Klin Med ( Moscow ). 2000;78(12):37-40. (Article in Russian)
PMID: 11210350

Borisenko LV, et al
The use of halotherapy for the rehabilitation of patients with acute bronchitis and a protracted and recurrent course
Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult. 1995 Jan-Feb ;( 1):11-5. (Article in Russian)
PMID: 7785211

Roslaia NA, Likhacheva EI, Shchekoldin PI.
Efficacy of therapeutic use of ultrasound and sinusoidal modulated currents combined with halotherapy in patients with occupational toxic-dust bronchitis
Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult. 2001 Jan-Feb ;( 1):26-7. (Article in Russian)
PMID: 11530404

Maliavin AG, Filiaeva IuA, Umakhanova MM, Chervinskaia AV.
Halotherapy-a new treatment for bacterial vaginosis
Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult. 2004 May-Jun ;( 3):35-7. (Article in Russian)
PMID: 15216790

Wark, P.A.B. and V. McDonald (2004), "Nebulised Hypertonic Saline for Cystic Fibrosis," Cochrane Review (abstract), (as of August 3, 2004).

In case these thirteen clinical studies are not enough, the following websites offer additional support:

Tano, L Tano
Salt mine rehabilitation center

If you are still reading, here is something else that might be of interest from Dr. Smiechowski about the mines at Wieliczka:

In 2004, the Wieliczka Salt Mine Underground Rehabilitation and Treatment Centre received the International ISO 9001:2000 Certificate in the Quality Management in health care in the field of treatment of the respiratory system and allergic conditions in adults and children. [Surely this is not granted to institutions using non-scientific methods or quackery?]

Thanks to the agreement signed between the Wieliczka Salt Mine, the Jagiellonian University Collegium Medicum and the Academy of Physical Education on co-operation in teaching, research and scientific activities, the Centre is a venue of research on the influence of the special microclimate of the Wieliczka Mine on the human body.

The scientific research conducted at the Centre is supervised by Professor Krystyna Obtułowicz - the head of the UJ Collegium Medicum Allergology department, as the Plenipotentiary of Collegiom's Vice-chancellor for of Co-operation with the Mine.

So you see, much research does exist. 

Do people really think we would waste our time, money, and other resources (not to mention risk our professional reputations) on something that was a scam? While Dr. Margaret had the benefit of growing up in Poland where no one would even think of questioning the benefits of salt, I did not--so when she approached me to build a salt cave at the Pyramid, you better believe I did my research. Although I do not speak Russian, Dr. Margaret was able to summarize the studies for me and it did not take long for me to realize that things like the Salt Cave and Halotherapy Room hold the potential for incredible wellness benefits. I've done the research myself, so I know that even though we must say that these treatments are just for relaxation, I know that they are so much more. People living near salt therapy options in general do not understand the potential they hold, and so we find ourselves trying hard to raise awarenes without violating the rules of the FDA. The other complaint that the watchdog members had was that if these studies exist, why are they not on our Pyramid website? The answer to this is quite simple; because of FDA regulations, we cannot make any medical claims about salt, so it would be wrong for us to advertise it as anything except a relaxation technique. Why would we point to studies on our website that is designed to give people information about what we have to offer that would suggest that salt could be used as a medical treatment?

Of course, it is hard enough in this world to get people to try new things, especially in this economy when you must charge for the service. The watchdog organization members claimed that we were ripping off the public and probably making a lot of money off this scam. At $10 per session, we are hardly getting rich off the Salt Cave. Most days we do not even cover our own expenses to run the cave, but we continue to offer it and other similar treatments because we believe in them, we see them work, and we want to provide people with effective tools to manage their own wellness.

The bottom line is that it is not our job to convince people that they need Himalayan salt. The research is out there if someone wants to take the time to look. The benefits are there if someone wants to take the time to experience it. We actually invited the members of this organization to come have a session on us. They declined.

As I watched them ridicule everything I believe in, I learned some very valuable lessons. There are people out there who are just plain miserable and want to attack others via the Internet for the fun of it and the power that it must make them feel. They do not feel empowered to be well, so they do not want to see anyone else feel empowered, either. And they would rather put their lives in the hands of medical doctors because it is easier to turn that responsibility over to someone else instead of accepting that they have some ability to treat themselves as a complement to regular medicine.

Although I was sad to see this incredibly healing treatment attacked, it was a great opportunity for me to return to the original research that convinced me. Now more than ever, I feel strongly that speleotherapy and halotherapy are two ways that we have as humans to use the power of salt crystals from the earth itself to help us stay well.

Thank you for reading.
Be well!
William Kelley, Ph.D.
Pyramid Holistic Wellness Center