We have been told for years that too much salt is bad for us. However a treatment called halotherapy is sweeping the world, with hope that sitting in a salt room may provide help for those suffering from asthma and emphysema. But not everyone is convinced.

The Milk Moustache’s Lauren Fitzpatrick reports.

James Spilsbury: It’s probably the equivalent of, if you go down to the beach and you sit on the beach all day breathing in the salt air from the beach, you feel better don’t you? Okay, well this is just that one day compressed into 45 minutes.

VO: We have been told for years that too much salt is bad for us. High salt intake is consistently linked to strokes, high blood pressure, heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases.

But in the world of natural therapies, too much salt is proving to be a popular remedy for chronic respiratory and skin problems.

Tetyana Skryvnyk: Salt rooms is natural alternative treatment for respiratory ailments, as well for skin, and for general wellbeing; to clear your lungs from pollution, to improve your stamina, and prevention from cold and flu. It is increasing your immune system.

VO: Tetyana Skryvnyk is Manager of Salt Rooms Australia.

Tetyana Skryvnyk: It’s very common in Eastern Europe, in my home, where I come from. So when we start to look here we couldn’t find any salt rooms, and we noticed that there are a lot of people with respiratory problems, asthma, and my nephew always getting cold and flu. And I said, ‘Why don’t you take him to salt rooms?’ But there’s no salt rooms here. So we decided to introduce this to Australia.

VO: Salt therapy has grown steadily in popularity in Europe for over 150 years, with hundreds of salt rooms throughout the continent. But salt rooms are also popping up in polluted cities such as New York and London, and there are now three salt rooms in Australia.

Emphysema sufferer, James Spilsbury, noticed improvements to his condition after three months of visiting the salt rooms, also known as halotherapy.

James Spilsbury: I must admit I was a bit skeptical about the benefit of coming to the salt rooms, however I’ve been coming here now a year. I come three times a week, and the difference in my breathing now is unbelievable. I’ve got COPD, or emphysema as a lot of people know it as, and I have about 30 per cent lung capacity. So any colds or any bits and pieces really wipe me out. And I find that by coming to the salt rooms, it makes it easier for me to cough, and it just keeps me healthier.

VO: Salt is a natural anti-histamine and anti-bacterial, which reportedly reduces inflammation and breaks up mucus in the lungs. In salt rooms, the mineral diffuses from the walls and the floor, and microscopic particles of salt are sprayed around the room, and inhaled into the lungs and sinuses.

Brett Wilson: I’ve been going to the salt room now for about 3 months. I go once a week and I feel like it’s made a real improvement to my running. I just feel like I’ve got more energy, and I can push myself harder and go for longer.

VO: Runner and sports teacher, Brett Wilson, has noticed an improvement in his stamina and breathing.

Brett Wilson: I also feel like it helps me breath better. Sometimes I get a bit of asthma and hay fever, and I feel like it has improved my lung capacity.

VO: With more than a third of the Australian population suffering from a respiratory condition, Australia has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world.

Asthma affects one in ten people – that’s over 2 million Australians.

Tanja Hoerzer: His breathing has definitely improved I would say, yeah.

VO: Mother of 5-year-old Luka, Tanja Hoerzer, has been bringing her son to the salt rooms to treat his mild asthma.

Tanja Hoerzer: So I thought I’d give it a try. I mean it doesn’t have any side effects, and we’ve been coming here for 2 months now and I think it’s good. It does make a difference, and the most important thing id I don’t have to give him as many medication anymore.

VO: But research doesn’t support the anecdotal experiences of these salt room converts.

Scientific studies suggest that it may make respiratory conditions worse.

Tests conducted over the past 30 years by Australian scientist, Sandra Anderson, show that salt in the airways could in fact have the opposite affect, and actually provoke asthma attacks.

Dr Anderson’s studies show that when people increase their ventilation during exercise, the airways dry out. As a result of the loss of water, an increased concentration of salt enters the airways, irritating them further.

Michele Goldman: We certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from trying to use salt bath therapies as a way to minimise symptoms that they are experiencing, however we would strongly encourage that people don’t do this in place of taking medication and treatments which do have a strong scientific base in terms of reducing airway inflammation, minimising symptoms, and preventing attacks.

VO: CEO of the NSW Asthma Foundation, Michele Goldman, is skeptical about the benefits of salt rooms, and warns asthma sufferers that to abandon their standard medical treatments could be life threatening.

Michele Goldman: No scientific evidence to suggest that salt baths are beneficial for people with asthma or other respiratory condition … Most people should be able to find a medication which at the right dosage, and taken regularly, does reduce their symptoms and allow them to get on with life.

VO: Salt room therapy was first chanced upon in the salt mining caves in Eastern Europe more than 100 years ago, when it was observed that there was a remarkably low incidence of respiratory problems in salt miners, despite the working conditions and malnutrition. But there is no research in Australia to support these historical claims. There is opinion divided on the usefulness of salt as a respiratory therapy. But some say it may be in the mind of the sufferer.

Maureen Milroy: It’s just nice, it’s relaxing, and I concentrate on my breathing while I’m here, so that’s a good thing. You don’t concentrate when you’re home doing things or out at work, so I just concentrate more than anything.



  1. Nati Harpaz November 10, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    Great clip

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