Salt – the Pros and the Cons

by Sarah Merson

The notion that we should cut down on salt in our diet is nothing new; the Food Standards Agency recommend that we cut our daily intake from 10 to 6 grams. Indeed, high intakes of salt are well known to contribute to high blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Less well known is that modern common table salt may also cause allergic reactions. From skin rashes to allergic rhinitis, the highly refined salt in our kitchen salt-shakers may be implicated. According to naturopath, Gunilla Gerber, who uses Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques to detect and help eliminate allergies and intolerances, a surprising number of people are intolerant to salt as we commonly know it.

The science behind table salt
The cumulative experience of our human ancestors and an increasing volume of scientific evidence indicates that salt is a major life-preserving substance and an effective healer. So, if salt is essential to life, why can’t we tolerate it?

The answer lies with industrial development and the chemical cleaning of salt. 'Essential minerals and trace elements, seen as impurities, have been removed and salt has been reduced to the combination of sodium and chloride,' say Dr Barbara Hendel and Peter Ferreira, authors of Water and Salt – the Essence of Life.

In essence, the natural properties of salt have been changed to accommodate its multifarious industrial uses. Indeed, an estimated 93% of the world’s salt production is now used for industrial purposes; another 6% is used as a food preservative.

In the body
The resulting sodium chloride is an isolated and unwholesome substance, which has nothing in common with pure salt. It seeks out potassium, calcium and magnesium as well as other minerals and trace elements in the body, thus changing the body’s biochemical structure and causing an imbalance in pH levels. ‘The effect is that we’re left without sufficient energy’, says Mr Ferreira. And, without sufficient energy the body is unable to function as it should.

Moreover, the consumption of common table salt leads to the formation of excess acidity and fluid in the body tissue. These can result in allergic or intolerant reactions.

Iodine is also often added to table salt, on the basis that it will be of benefit to the thyroid. Iodine, however, can also catalyse and accelerate the production of nitrates in the stomach and is related to the onset of allergic symptoms.

With increasing numbers of patients suffering the negative effects of table salt, health practitioners are regularly recommending that it should be eliminated from the diet. But, what’s the alternative?

Salt – ancient...
‘There must be something sacred in salt. It is in our tears and in the ocean’ said Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese poet.

Whilst salt has many negative connotations, the right type of salt, used in the right way, is incredibly therapeutic and has been recognised as such throughout history. Salt is mentioned as an essential ingredient in some of the oldest medical scripts. The Egyptians used salt as a disinfectant and salt-based remedies were widely prescribed for calloused skin, epidemic diseases, and as eye ointments. Later, both sea salt and rock salt were well known to the ancient Greeks who noted that eating salty food affected basic body functions such as digestion and excretion.

...and modern
Today, sea salt is made from collecting seawater and evaporating it, thus allowing the salt to crystallise. With chemical dumping and toxic oil spills polluting the oceans, however, much of today's sea salt is contaminated to some degree.

Then there’s rock salt - mined from salt deposits underground, which are the remnants of prehistoric seas. Although rock salt maintains its natural integrity the mineral elements are structurally coarse and aren’t always easily assimilated by the body.

Crystal salt
Amongst the most pure and biochemically sound salts is crystal salt which you can use as a table salt but is also used by many health professionals for its therapeutic effects. ‘I consider crystal salt an important addition to my therapies and have witnessed a definite improvement in symptoms in those who have used it’, says naturopath, Gunilla Gerber.

So, what makes crystal salt so beneficial? Unlike other salts, crystal salt has the right structure to work with the body rather than against it. Found deep within Himalayan salt mines, Himalayan crystal salt has been subjected to enormous pressure over millions of years thus creating elements of a specific size and form, which make them biochemically available to human cells. According to the authors of Water and Salt, ‘the same elements were originally found in the primal ocean from where all life originated’.

Studies show that Himalayan crystal salt contains 84 minerals in the same ratio as healthy blood plasma. It provides a perfect balance of magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium, all of which are minerals our bodies need for optimum health; moreover, the sodium is in an organic form which our bodies can process safely’.

Crystal salt: therapeutic uses
Salt bath
Salt added to bathwater has a balancing effect on the skin, can be especially soothing for dry or oily skin and allergic skin rashes/hives and replenishes natural moisture and rebalances pH.
At home: Use approximately 1% salt concentration (1 part salt to 100 parts bathwater) or 1 kilo of salt to 28 gallons of water. Increase up to 5% salt concentration.

Salt eye bath
If you suffer from dehydration of the eyeball (dry eyes), usually caused by environmental factors, salt binds with water in an eye bath so that the eyeball is able to regain its natural form. You can also use a saltwater eye bath where pollen has caused a hayfever reaction.
At home: Use a 1% salt/water concentration, two to three times a day.

Salt pipes/nasal sprays
If you suffer from nasal congestion or headaches flush your nose regularly with salt water. It moisturises the mucosa and supports its natural regeneration, making it more difficult for bacteria and viruses to nest and cause sinus infections or hayfever. Nasal sprays based on saltwater concentrations have a similar effect.
At home: You should aim to cleanse the nose twice daily with a 1% salt/water concentration.

Saltwater inhalation
Salt inhalation (known as speleotherapy) is particularly useful, and has been traditionally used, for treating allergic conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.

In 1843 the Polish health official Felix Botchkowski wrote a book about the benefits of salt dust after noticing how workers at salt mines did not suffer with lung disease. Following this, a salt spa and anti-allergy sanatorium was founded in a salt mine near Krakow in Poland, which is still operational today. The salt mine is listed amongst the top 12 on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list and is renowned for bringing natural relief to people suffering from asthma, nasal catarrh, sinusitis, breathlessness, bronchitis, tonsillitis, rhinitis and hayfever.

The unique microclimate of a salt cave is highly therapeutic. With constant temperature and humidity levels, the hypobacterial and allergen-free environment is saturated with negative ions, thus enhancing the healing effect. The salty vapours calm and cleanse the cells of the respiratory system by flushing away any impurities. The nasal passage is cleared, inflamed lungs and airways are calmed and mucus and bronchial membranes are soothed.

At home: Start with a 1% salt/water concentration and increase up to 3%. Inhale twice daily.

Clinical developments
With the recognised benefits of the salt cave environment, clinicians have been turning to halotherapy (halos – ‘salt’ in Greek), a medical development where patients can gain the benefits of salt inhalation in a controlled air medium, which simulates a natural salt cave microclimate. Read more.

Another clinical development includes the promotion of a saline environment through the use of an aerosol, which disperses tiny salt particles, and is suitable for adults and children alike. In Paediatric Allergy and Immunology (April 2003) a review of one study supported the use of nasal irrigation with a hypertonic saline aerosol in paediatric patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis during the pollen season. The treatment was described as ‘tolerable, inexpensive and effective’.

Further Information
Himalayan crystal salt – table salt, therapeutic crystal rocks and salt crystal lamps (said to be good for reducing electrosmog) 01342 410 303

Naturopath Gunilla Gerber practises in Sussex. For appointments call 01342 316116.

John Scott also had some comments on Sarah Merson’s salt article:

'There is a biochemically balanced form of salt called BioSalt available from Mildred (Milli) Packard, 1305 N Parsell, Mesa, AZ 85203, USA –

Unlike the 'Biosalt' once marketed in the UK by Lanes, the US version does not contain lactose and has added trace minerals. The contents of the US BioSalt are as follows: sodium chloride, potassium chloride, tricalcium phosphate, zinc oxide, potassium iodide, ferrous
fumarate, copper gluconate, manganese sulphate, chromium picolinate, magnesium oxide and trace minerals from sea salt.

A friend with ME, who has tried various forms of salt, reports that, whilst not having noticed any particular positive effect when using other types of salt, including Himalayan rock salt, she experiences significantly less fatigue, with less fluctuation in available energy, when using BioSalt.'

First published in 2009

If this article was of interest you will find many other articles on unlikely allergies and allergy connections here – and links to many relevant research studies here.

For more on the more 'mainstream' allergies check in to our 'allergy and intolerance home page' – and for ideas on alternative foods go here.

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