Originally Posted HERE
Erin Van Der Meer | 2017
I should preface this article with two facts about myself. Firstly, I’m a sucker for trying health and wellness trends. But secondly, I’m also highly sceptical of pretty much everything after debunking health myths as a writer at Coach.
So I was equally excited and dubious about the halotherapy trend taking off around Australia and the world, where people sit in rooms or ‘caves’ where the walls and floor are made of Himalayan salt, and it’s also pumped into the air in a fine powder.
Some swear halotherapy has reduced their asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) symptoms, and improved the wellbeing of people with anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and insomnia.
After a few health-obsessed friends posted on social media about feeling just ~amazing~ after a salt therapy session, I decided I had to try it out for myself.
What it’s like inside a salt cave
I visited Modrn Sanctuary in New York, a stylish wellness centre that felt more like a day spa. I was asked to leave my shoes and belongings (including, at the gentle but firm suggestion of the staff, my iPhone) in a locker before being led to the cave.
The salt cave at Modrn Sanctuary, like most salt rooms, has walls made of pink Himalayan salt bricks, and the floor is also covered in granules of it, like a sand pit.
Several salt lamps around the space created a soft pink-orange glow, and I thought this must be how it feels to be in the womb.
I chose one of the three large, comfy arm chairs (there’s room for up to three people at once, but I went at a quiet time and had it all to myself) and was given the option to listen to meditation music on an iPad, or the calming day spa music playing softly.
Once I was settled in a machine that infuses the air with micro-particles of salt was switched on, the door was closed, and I was left to ~get salty~ for half an hour.
For the first few minutes I didn’t feel much of an effect, and I wondered how I was going to get through half an hour sitting in a room with nothing to do.
But after about 10 minutes I felt my body starting to relax, a result of the soothing atmosphere of the warm, glowing room and comfy chair, if nothing else.
I breathed deeply to get the full (alleged) benefits, focused on the sensation of my feet digging into the salt granules, and that was it: I was, as the kids say, chill AF.
At times I began to drift in and out of consciousness, the feeling similar to having a really good massage or mediation.
I’m not sure if the salt itself had any effect (more on that below), but I felt the tension of a day of meeting deadlines melt away – possibly just because I was without my phone in a quiet, calming space.
When the session was over, I headed back onto the street in Manhattan in a dazed, dream-like state, with the taste of salt on my lips.
RELATED: This doctor wants you to eat more salt, not less
What science says about halotherapy and salt treatment
Now, to put my sceptic’s hat on. I dug deep into scientific journals to find studies on the benefits of halotherapy, and unfortunately there aren’t many credible sources.
In 2014, a review of 151 studies and scientific articles by the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease found just one clinical trial that met the criteria of a credible piece of research.
The authors concluded that halotherapy could not be recommend as a treatment for COPD or other lung diseases or disorders until high quality studies are carried out to determine its effectiveness.
However, there’s always the case for the placebo effect, the idea that if we believe something helps, it can make us feel better, therefore lowering stress levels.
As Associate Professor Damien Finniss, from the University of Sydney’s Pain Management Research Institute told Coach, if you have faith in a treatment it can activate parts of the brain that help you get better.
“Sometimes if you take a simple painkiller, like paracetamol or ibuprofen, for any particular problem, you start to feel better before the drug has actually gone into the bloodstream and started to illicit its biological effect,” he explained.
“Most of us are placebo responders on any single day of the week when we take a tablet or have a treatment.
“A patient’s beliefs, past experiences, the charisma of the healthcare provider, the technology of the treatment, the colour of the tablets and even branding and the hype of a treatment can play a role in the psychological context.”
So while the science isn’t there (yet) to confirm many of the claims about the health benefits of halotherapy and salt rooms, it probably won’t hurt to use one if it makes you feel better – provided you’re also seeking appropriate medical treatment if you have a health condition like asthma, COPD, anxiety or chronic stress.