Guest blog by Vicky Ware,
Salts: Himalayan, Epsom and Dead Sea
When I was at university studying physiotherapy (a course I didn’t finish) my professor told us to think of the human body as a big bag of salty water. Why? Because the chemical balance of the body starts at the level of salts. Get that balance wrong and the entire system gets skewed and things start to go wrong – from joints to emotional health.
As a health conscious teenager who got most of my information from headlines and pervading myths, I thought salt was the bad guy. I tried to eat as little salt as possible. Now, I eat very little processed food and since I’ve started getting enough magnesium*, I no longer crave salty foods. I’m also aware that I need to add salt to my meals if I’m not getting them from anywhere else – but what kind of salt?
What Makes One Salt Different to Another?
Different salts contain different levels of trace minerals. ‘Table salt’ mainly contains sodium chloride and it’s an over-abundance of this white crystal that is bad for health 1. We definitely need some sodium, just not the amount generally eaten if processed foods are in your diet. There are salts which contain a greater balance of minerals, though and these might be worth considering as an alternative to table salt.
The recommended daily allowance of salt is 6 grams per day which is one teaspoon of salt 2. If a food label on lists how much ‘sodium’ is in the food, this number x2.5 is the amount of salt the food contains. For example, 2 grams of sodium is contained in 5 grams of table salt. Therefore you shouldn’t eat more than 2.4 grams of sodium per day 2.
If you exercise a lot, you’ll lose more salt through sweat and will need to replace this in your diet along with a balance of other electrolytes you lose through sweat such as potassium and magnesium 3;4.
Types of Salt…
The colour of salt lets you know whether it contains trace elements other than sodium chloride, the main component of table salt. Himalayan salt is pink in colour due to the trace levels of iron it contains. It is mined from the Himalayas in Pakistan.
Unlike table salt, Himalayan salts are only 85% sodium chloride (table salt is 97% sodium chloride). 15% of this pink crystal is made up of other minerals, mainly sulphate, calcium, potassium but with many others in smaller amounts.
While there are no scientific studies (that I could find) that compare the health of people who consume table salt compared to those who consume Himalayan salt, there are studies which show that consuming too much sodium chloride can increase blood pressure and may lead to cardiovascular disease 5.
However, as with all studies of nutrition, finding what is good for people and what isn’t is difficult – other studies have found no link between dietary sodium intake and later risk of cardiovascular disease 6. The latter study asked people how much sodium was in their diet over a period of months via a questionnaire. It’s really difficult to report what you eat accurately and people have been shown to give inaccurate information about what they really eat 7. This makes finding out what’s good for us and what’s bad even more difficult.
However, health experts still advise the majority of people to reduce their sodium intake, and using Himalayan salt is one way to do this 1.
Epsom salt is another name for magnesium sulphate. Epsom salts are not meant for consumption – they contain too much magnesium. What they are great for is putting in bath water, or a foot soak, to up your intake of magnesium. Magnesium can be absorbed directly through the skin meaning you can up your intake without eating anything 8.
Magnesium* aids relaxation and sleep, so having a magnesium bath before bed is a great way to relax and ensure a good night’s sleep. You can also use Epsom salts with Lucy Bee to make a body scrub**.
Epsom salts are a particularly good way for athletes to get a boost in magnesium, as research has shown that athletes are often deficient in this crucial mineral 9.
This type of salt is from the Dead Sea, which is an extremely salty place. The water is 29% salt compared to 4% salt in other seas – that’s nearing the maximum amount of salt that can be dissolved in water. Only around 12% of Dead Sea salt is sodium chloride, while 85% of the salt in normal sea water is sodium chloride 10.
People have travelled to the Dead Sea to bath in the salty waters for their medicinal benefits for centuries, with records of Egyptians making ‘pilgrimages’ to the Dead Sea for their health. Studies have now shown that topical application of Dead Sea minerals can help your skin recover from exposure to UVB radiation via its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nature 10.
If you’re not in the mood for a pilgrimage, you can buy Dead Sea salt to use in your food or to dissolve in your bath water. Research has shown that bathing in Dead Sea salts improves skin condition, moisturising, smoothing and reducing inflammation in skin and reducing dry and itchy skin in people with allergic reactions 11. This is thought to be due to the high magnesium content of these salts. Like Epsom salts, Dead Sea salts are high in magnesium but not so high they’re dangerous to eat. This makes Dead Sea salts a great way to add salt to your food without too much sodium while upping your magnesium intake 11.
Dead Sea salt is also antimicrobial, which might partly explain why some people find it improves the condition of their skin 12.
One thing to look out for is whether your Dead Sea salt is actually from the Dead Sea or Dead Sea Mud. The salt from the mud has different levels of minerals 12.
As a way to lower your sodium intake and up your intake of other trace minerals using Himalayan and Dead Sea salt is a good way to get your salts.
Epsom salts shouldn’t be eaten but are great for upping your intake of magnesium when dissolved in bath water. While no specific research has been done to show that Himalayan and Dead Sea salts are better for health than consuming table salt, research has shown that diets too high in sodium chloride can result in high blood pressure which may increase chances of developing cardiovascular disease.
Vicky has a degree in Biological Sciences with a focus on biochemistry and immunology and is currently studying for a MSc in Drug Discovery and Protein Biotechnology. She is also an endurance athlete.
- Whelton (2015) Dietary sodium intake: scientific basis for public policy.
- NHS (2015) Salt: The facts.
- Malhotra (1976) Potassium losses in sweat under heat stress.
- Getzin (2011) Nutrition Update for the Ultraendurance Athlete.
- Farquhar (2015) Dietary Sodium and Health: More Than Just Blood Pressure.
- Kalogeropoulos (2015) Dietary sodium content, mortality, and risk for cardiovascular events in older adults: the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study.
- Dhurandhar (2014) Energy balance measurement: when something is better than nothing.
- Chandrasekaran (2014) Effects of magnesium deficiency –more than skin deep.
- Nielsen (2006) Update on the relationship between magnesium and exercise.
- Portugal-Cohen (2009) Protective effects of a cream containing Dead Sea minerals against UVB-induced stress in human skin.
- Proksch (2005) Bathing in magnesium-rich Dead Sea salt solution improves barrier function, enhances skin hydration, and reduces inflammation in atopic dry skin.
- Ma’or (2005) Antimicrobial properties of Dead Sea black mineral mud.
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