Salt Spa Claims To Help People With Respiratory Problems

Inhaling Salt -- A New Type Of 'Spa 'Experience

Three tons of table salt lines the walls and the floor looks like white sand, but it's actually salt.

Inside the room, you breathe in salt from the Dead Sea that has been ground so fine you don't even see it.

It's not something out of a science fiction movie. It's a spa. And it's a trend from Eastern Europe that is hitting the United States. There are six salt spas in the U.S. and one of them is in Boulder.

"She usually makes me soup out of salt," said Robin, who asked her last name not to be used. Robin's daughter Siri plays in the salt like it's sand.

The 45 minutes spent in the salt room are not for fun, but rather therapy.

"It is very simple," said Dr. Nita Desai, a family physician who opened the Salt Spa. "It is not exotic or some kind of mysterious way that it is working."

Desai said for some people, it is working miracles.

"My quality of life is completely different right now," said Barbara Golen, who comes to the spa three to four times a week, for two hours a time.

"This was the first thing that has made such a difference to where I am not relying heavily on my inhalers," said Robin.

The process is simple. However, Desai said it is not a quick fix.

"Initially I was coming three to four times a week," said Robin. "Now I basically come once a week."

Kids like Siri play with sand toys. Adults usually read or meditate.

"It is so relaxing, you immediately start to let go," said a recent visitor.

People breathe normally, and inhale microscopic particles of salt from the Dead Sea that is blown from a generator into the room.

"It is a non-drug control for asthma," said Desai. "One hundred percent I can say it is a very good nondrug control for asthma."

It's known as halotherapy. It emerged from speleotherapy, salt caves, which were located in Eastern Europe. In the 1800s a Polish physician noticed people working in salt caves didn't have any pulmonary or respiratory problems.

"When you inhale it, it has a anti-inflammatory effect on the mucous membranes," said Desai. "It increases mucous ciliary clearance so it liquefies the mucous in your airways and it increases the motion of the cilia so that you start bringing all that mucous up," said Desai.

Desai said the phenomenon is new in the U.S., but is widely used in Russia.

"There are about 50 halo chambers in hospitals in Russia," said Desai. "They are connected. It is not considered alternative. It is part of their respiratory chambers."

But the Salt Spa in Boulder is just that, a spa.

"We are not advertising it as a medical treatment," said Desai.

There have been no clinical studies of salt therapy in the United States. However in 2006, the New England Journal of Medicine released a study that concluded hypertonic saline, salt water, is a safe and effective additional therapy for patients with cystic fibrosis, which affects the lungs.

A salt spa "works even better than that," said Desai.

But the experts at National Jewish Medical Center are not ready to go out on that limb just yet.

"There are no proven benefits," said Dr. David Buether, a pulmonologist with National Jewish. "By that I mean no scientifically evaluated trials."

Buether said about one-third of asthmatics don't find relief with medicine.

"So maybe it is time that we start being humble and start looking at this, but albeit with some skepticism because I have not seen anything that would suggest that this is not anything more promising than a placebo," said Buether.

Buether said he believes salt therapy should only be done as a last resort.

The people who go to the Salt Spa every week disagree with Buether and believe a nondrug therapy such as inhaling salt could be done first. And they plan on continuing their visits.

Halotherapy is not just for respiratory problems. Desai said she has seen relief for people with skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and acne. Children with frequent ear infections have also seen results, she said.

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