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Salt and your health: What are the facts?

For thousands of years, salt has been used in medical treatments, traced all the way back to the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians using it to treat wounds, skin irritations and mouth sores. In modern day medicine, a concentrated form of salt water (saline solution) is often used in surgeries, cleaning incisions, optometry, dentistry, and even used intravenously.

So how is it that salt is so helpful for the body? As a chemical, salt (sodium chloride) forces cells to expel liquid out of the body when it comes into contact, even if those liquids contain bacteria. This process is called osmosis. Effectively, the sodium chloride dehydrates damaged cells, making it antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Salt also helps to carry nutrients into cells, support the transfer of nerve impulses in the brain and central nervous system, balance electrolytes and fluids, regulate acid balance in the body, regulate blood pressure, and more.

Salt and salt water has many uses in medicine. For mouth health, gargling salt water (approximately one teaspoon in 250ml) can temporarily alkalize the mouth, deterring bacteria from proliferating. It can heal mouth ulcers and sores, eliminate tonsil stones, improve bad breath, and boost general mouth and gum health. However, swallowing too much salt water can be detrimental to health, because the osmosis forces internal water out of the body cells, and dehydrates the body.

In the field of optometry, saline solution is used regularly. Contact lens wearers often carry saline solution with them, as the eye drops can help with dry, irritated eyes. The sodium chloride can reduce swelling of the eye for certain conditions, by drawing fluid out of the cornea. Saline can also be used temporarily as a contact lens cleaner (not long term), though it must be the sterile saline solution purchased from pharmacies, as opposed to a home mix.

Salt is regularly used for conditions of the nasal passage and sinuses, as a spray or a rinse. Those who suffer from hay fever may find a saline nose spray helpful, as it not only clears the nasal passages, but curbs inflammation of mucus membranes. Similarly, a nasal wash (such as a Neti pot, a plastic squirt bottle, or a bulb syringe) can rinse the nasal passages of pollen and other inflammatories, and help to thin mucus. These solutions can be mixed at home (so long as the water has been previously boiled, and the salt has no additives) but it’s safest to purchase from a pharmacy or chemist. Over-the-counter nasal saline solutions may be isotonic, which means the solution has the same level of saline as in the human body, or hypertonic, with a higher concentration of saline. Speak to your pharmacist to see which is best for you.

On an even greater scale, salt aids in lung and respiratory health. In patients with Cystic Fibrosis or bronchiectasis, hypertonic saline can be inhaled as a nebulized medication. Salt is also used in halotherapy (salt therapy) as patients breathe in pharmaceutical grade salt, to benefit lung and respiratory health. The anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of the salt can aid symptoms of various respiratory conditions, such as asthma, cold and flus, bronchitis, and more. Particles of salt help to loosen the excessive mucus, and the osmosis process can remove pathogens and bacteria.

Salt can also help treat skin conditions, as it has for thousands of years. Hospitals commonly use sterile saline water to irrigate and clean wounds, as it’s gentle enough to not damage healing tissue. For rashes and irritations, saline can have benefits, whether it’s bathing in salt water, a dip in the ocean, or halotherapy. Salt therapy can help to reduce the symptoms of eczema and psoriasis, by helping to improve skin’s good bacteria, while stimulating cell regeneration and exfoliation.

So not only is it a delicious addition to flavored dishes, it’s also an important part of your health and wellbeing. To experience some of the benefits of salt, book yourself in for a salt session today.

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