A Pinch of Salt

By Keir Liddle

Regulars of the Old Marionville Bar may be pleased to know that their boozer is reopening. Should they attempt to return to their bar stools for a refreshing pint, they could be in for a shock.

The pub has been refurbished and kitted out as Scotland’s firstSalt Cave“. The new owner Pete Flynn, who created the Salt Cave with wife Julia, will officially open it next Friday. Flynn told the Scotsman:

“These are all over the place on the continent and there are a couple down south, but this will be the first in Scotland. We were looking to start up a business after years working for Marie Curie, so when we saw this in Ireland we decided to go for it.”

Salt Caves are based on the premise that asthma and allergy sufferers can get relief from their breathing problems by entering a room where the floor and walls are covered with a thick layer of natural sea salt, while particles of dry rock salt are pumped into the room. The therapy originated in Eastern Europe and is also known as Halotherapy.

The evidence presented for Salt Caves is a mixed bag, at best, and leaves me skeptical of the treatment’s benefits. There are around 75+ papers looking at halotherapy (and the related speleotherapy) which are mainly reports of clinical trials. Many of these studies lack validity because of gaps in experimental design and inexplicable failures to report crucial details. However, some research has shown that nebulizer and ionisers can be beneficial for people with some respiratory conditions when used as a complementary, but not alternative, treatment (see here and here).

The Salt Cave website offers treatment for children and adults alike, including the following advice for parents of children with respiratory problems:

Why not try the Salt Cave natural method of healing before starting your children on long-term medication, where the hormone content of many drugs can cause serious and dangerous side-effects?

They back up their claims of the safety for children with reference to this paper, which actually relates to nasal irrigation and not Halotherapy. It concerns me slightly that those presenting the evidence of the safety of a treatment for children cannot tell when a paper is addressing that treatment or not. That said, I can’t see any reason why Halotherapy would be harmful in any way to children, although I am concerned at the impact of delaying treatment for respiratory disorders in children.

Delaying treatment for asthma, for instance, can lead to worsening lung function, and there is evidence that for both children and adults that early and effective therapy with inhaled steroids results in long-term remission in the majority of patients.

The Salt Cave also claims that the treatment is “risk free”, and, while it may seem that Halotherapy has few side effects, there are some  minor risks. Some patients may experience itchy skin in the halochamber, and too much aerosol salt can cause conjunctivitis, although it has been suggested  this is a result of impurities within the salts used.

In short, this seems to be a case of alternative and complementary types taking an idea that may contain a grain of truth and over-exaggerating the benefits based on very spurious evidence. However, while I remain skeptical of the claims about halotherapy, I would need to look into it more to decide for certain whether it is pure woo, or whether there is something to it.

Nonetheless, when the owners of a business in a coastal city use the following as a selling point:

“When you walk in it is like going to the seaside for the first time in a while”

…whereas, for the sum of £2.60, you can hop on a bus and find yourself at the actual seaside, saving yourself thirty odd quid, then I tend to take their claims with a healthy pinch of salt.

This entry was posted in Featured, news, opinion, Scepticism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to A Pinch of Salt

  1. @Keir Liddle

    “When for the sum of £2.60 you can hop on a bus and find yourself at the actual seaside and save yourself thirty odd quid then I tend to take their claims with a healthy pinch of salt…”

    You took the words right out of my mouth with that one.

    “…particles of dry rock salt are pumped into the room.”

    Does anybody else find that somewhat concerning: dry salt tends to be quite, well, abrasive, and not really something I’d particularly want to breathe in. I would assume the air in a salt mine cave or at the sea would be fully ionised and not on the micron scale as the wiki suggests?

    There is also the very important question of what happens when you spill your drink in one of these places… “you’ve dissolved the floor!”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s