Salt. The very mention of the word may conjure feelings of high blood pressure, swollen ankles and a rapidly beating heart. We know, however, that salt is a natural disinfectant, antimicrobial and antibacterial. We may remember being forced by our mothers to gargle with salt water at the mere mention of a sore throat. And, for good luck, we toss salt over our left shoulder. Salt … it’s a vital nutrient for our bodies. We need it to survive. It can’t be all bad, can it?
I’m not talking about the much-maligned shaker on the dinner table, however. I’m referring to the centuries-old belief in the healing and medicinal properties of natural salt.
I have suffered from asthma and allergies all my life. I will never be a cat or dog owner … no birds, bunnies or hamsters either, much to the dismay of my children. Spring and fall bring both beauty and loathing as I stock up on over-the-counter pills, drops and assorted sprays to counteract the onslaught of pollen, freshly mowed grass and every blooming flower and tree.
The universe must have heard my plea for relief when I found myself in, of all places, my dentist’s office. I was sitting in the exam room at Family Dental Group in Fairfield and noticed a salt lamp on my hygienist’s cabinet. Coincidentally, I had just heard a story on the radio about salt lamps and how they help people with respiratory problems. I’ve worked in the environmental publishing industry for nearly 20 years but had never heard about salt therapy. I was about to get educated!
When Cathie Collier (RDH, MS), my hygienist of nearly 25 years, came in, I didn’t question her about my teeth. Rather, I asked her why there was a salt lamp in the exam room. Cathie, who says she is Connecticut’s first hygienist to become a dental spa therapist, has been an advocate of holistic health care for decades and is now on the cutting edge of integrating natural therapies, including salt lamps, into a more natural approach to patient care. “Holistic practices provide a great alternative for patients who are resistant to long-term medications and antibiotics which can have harmful side effects,” she explains. “More importantly, I’m able to educate my patients on the uses and benefits of traditional and holistic practices.”
What role does a salt lamp have in my dental cleaning? “Himalayan salt lamps are just a part of my spa treatment for my patients,” Cathie states. “Their healing power has been known for centuries. The salt serves to cleanse the dental operatory from positive ions or the ‘bad ions’ that are not only emitted from radiation but are also a part of the atmosphere. Positive ions contribute to free radicals, which in turn contribute to various cancers. The beautiful and warm glow from the Himalayan salt lamp also creates a relaxed atmosphere.“
Cathie’s inspiration for spa therapy was to provide a unique dental experience for her patients. “The dental spa blends the best of alternative practices with the science of dentistry. My patients get the best of both. As a result, I have developed new and lasting relationships with many patients. Spa treatment is the one dental treatment where patients leave wanting more. They can’t wait until their next visit. They feel completely relaxed and rejuvenated.”
Not only did I leave her office that day with clean teeth but I had a thirst, pardon the pun, to learn more about salt therapy. Salt therapy, or halotherapy, which is a derived from the Greek halos, meaning salt, is a centuries-old form of alternative medicine that makes use of salt in its various forms to treat a host of ailments, ranging from respiratory illnesses to skin conditions to gastrointestinal disorders to the common seasonal allergy.
Not until the 1840s, however, when a Polish doctor named Feliks Boczkowski began treating miners, did anyone in the medical profession begin to study salt’s medicinal properties. According to www.saltsanctuary.com, Boczkowski noticed that coal miners were plagued with a myriad of respiratory problems yet salt miners at the Wieliczka salt cave were emerging with pristine lungs and no health problems at all. He published a book on his findings, and a few years later, one of Boczkowski’s pupils founded the first salt clinic near Kraków, Poland.
Fast forward to the 21st Century and we begin to see an emergence in both halotherapy and speleotherapy (the respiratory therapy involving breathing the mineral-infused air of a salt cave). It is believed that the benefits of salt therapy are wide-ranging, as it affects our cell activity, energy and blood sugar levels. The negatively charged ions in salt are said to improve our health and mood. Inhaling particles may reduce inflammation and mucus in the lungs, improving such respiratory conditions as asthma, allergies, bronchitis, sinus congestion, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Studies have shown that some people with asthma and other ailments can breathe easier after halotherapy.
If you have no plans to be in Eastern Europe anytime soon, have no fear: Saltana Himalayan Salt Cave (saltanacave.com), located at 590 Danbury Road in Ridgefield, is your source for an authentic salt cave experience. The owner, Anna Husted, says, “Salt therapy is of particular therapeutic value to people with asthma, allergies, and sinus and other respiratory conditions. Salt treatments may also improve symptoms of eczema, ADHD, headaches, ear infections, and more.”
Husted goes on to share her inspiration for opening Saltana Cave three years ago. “On a trip to Poland, I found salt therapy greatly benefited my 10-year-old daughter, Michelle, who suffers from asthma. That was the breaking point for me. I realized I had to create one here so it would be there for her, but also available to anyone else interested in a complementary, alternative-type treatment that’s very relaxing, soothing and healthful at the same time.”
You can bring the salt cave experience home with you by purchasing salt lamps and other related products. For example, Talisman (talismanct.com), located at 150 Main Street in Monroe, sells both electric salt lamps and salt tea light candleholders.
Danish writer Isak Dinesen once said, “The cure for anything is saltwater: sweat, tears or the sea.” If you can’t get to the sea as often as you’d like, it’s comforting to know there are places close by where we can still experience the healing powers of salt therapy, at a natural Himalayan salt cave in Ridgefield, a dentist’s office or, perhaps, home (my new salt lamp is plugged in as I write).