These days, salt is more seen as a health risk on the kitchen table, but in parts of Europe, it has a place in the pantry as well as in alternative medicine, where the more of it you take in its purest form, the better it is for the body.
Salt is one of the basic compounds and is critical to our existence: every cell in the human body is dependent on the presence of sodium, found in salt, and each cell in our body can be likened to a small ocean containing salty water where, within these cells, sodium works with potassium to maintain a constant, dynamic balance essential for energy transfer within the cells.
This is where the healing powers of salt therapy, also known as halotherapy (HT, from the Greek word halos, for salt), come in. A form of non-invasive treatment for many respiratory and skin diseases, it has been practised in old salt mines of Eastern Europe since the early 19th century, but is only now gaining popularity in the UAE, with two salt therapy suites opening up in the space of three months.
Since we can’t all jet off to one of the 500 or more salt caves around the globe dedicated to this purpose, or to the Dead Sea on a whim for a healing dip, the recent opening of First Salt Room (FSR), located at Jumeirah Lakes Towers, is convenient.
There, clients spend time in a room packed with salt hoping to find relief from issues such as acne, eczema and psoriasis to various breathing problems such as sinusitis, bronchitis, asthma and even stress.
Here, the purest, mineral-rich salt found in the Himalayas and Bulgaria, also referred to as medicinal salt, is put in an aerosol generator and circulated into a custom-built, confined area in which even the walls and floors are covered in salt.
It is said that a 40- to 45-minute session in this environment, in which one inhales the very best of 84 different types of minerals found in salt, is equivalent to spending five days in the ocean.
Experts recommend at least six sessions to see any definite results (depending on the ailment), yet often clients claim to feel the benefits after one sitting, says Ahmad Al Balawi, FSR’s managing director. “I am a fairly healthy person but was impressed with my first session, which is why I brought FSR here. I smoke and after one session I could actually breathe easier. My airways cleared up and for two whole weeks I felt fine. It’s good for immunity, like yoga or meditation – it’s effective and helps people to cope with stress.
“In Croatia and all over Europe, no matter how bad the economy, salt therapy is really succeeding there because it actually helps people,” continues Al Balawi. “I know so many people there who notice huge differences in cases where regular medicine did not help them.”
In 80 per cent of the salt rooms across Europe, children are the main clients as they are more prone to allergies and skin ailments, but if you do have a cold, it’s worth booking a few sessions, says the 24-year-old Stephanie Shoucair, who tried out salt therapy at FSR.
“I tried it for cold and flu symptoms and after my first session at FSR, I felt a slight improvement: my airways were clearer and I felt more at ease,” she says. “After my third session, it had improved my congestion, made my breathing better and I came out feeling relaxed.”
Business owners expect this form of alternative medicine will gain traction in the UAE because of the country’s dusty environment. With its detoxifying effect on the lungs, salt therapy is good for such an environment. Another treatment centre, Wafi Mall’s Salt Cave Spa, which opened in September, is already seeing considerable footfall for such cases.
“On a monthly basis we are seeing approximately 400 visitors, with 60 per cent of the people coming through just out of curiosity with no awareness of the benefits, while the rest, predominantly Eastern Europeans and Asians, have been waiting for something like this to come to the UAE for some time,” says Mohammed Alam, Salt Cave Spa’s owner.
“We were the first to open over here but in other parts of the world – New York, Sydney, London – it’s almost every month they’re opening new places over there. Two weeks ago, one opened up in New Delhi and now we are opening up one in Lahore soon, as well as one in Kuwait.
“It’s old therapy but it’s still fairly new to this region. We’re trying to change that.”
• A 40 to 45- minute session at First Salt Room (www.firstsaltroom.com; 052 899 8744) costs Dh230 for adults; Dh150 gets a child a 20-minute session (adult supervision is required). At Wafi Mall’s Salt Cave Spa (www.saltcavespame.com; 04 370 8877), a 40- to 45- minute session costs Dh250 per adult and Dh200 for children. Packages are also available