The Magic of Salt

November 7, 2009
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Crystallized Salt Under Microscope

Is salt our new magic potion?

If you’re the Winchester brothers, you protect all the windows and doors from demons and witches with lines of salt.  If you are superstitious, you throw a pinch of salt over your left shoulder to ward off evil spirits  after spilling the precious substance.  If you’re an Internet junkie, you may have received an email purporting to be tips on preventing the swine flu from a doctor in India, which among other things, recommends that one swab the mucous linings of the nose with salt water, and gargle with warm salt water:

3. Gargle twice a day with warm salt water (use Listerine if you don’t trust salt). H1N1 takes 2-3 days after initial infection in the throat/ nasal cavity to proliferate and show characteristic symptoms. Simple gargling prevents proliferation. In a way, gargling with salt water has the same effect on a healthy individual that Tamiflu has on an infected one. Don’t underestimate this simple, inexpensive and powerful preventative method.

4. Similar to 3 above,
clean your nostrils at least once every day with warm salt water. Not everybody may be good at Jala Neti or Sutra Neti (very good Yoga asanas to clean nasal cavities), but blowing the nose hard once a day and swabbing both nostrils with cotton buds dipped in warm salt water is very effective in bringing down viral population.

And if you’re a piercee, a nice warm sea salt soak can do wonders for your piercings. Sea Salt Soaks (sometimes abbreviated by piercees as SSS) are part of the standard aftercare recommendations for most piercings.  I’ve written about salt in various places in this blog, most notably in the aftercare posts, like Chicken Soup for Your Piercings and Aftercare in Detail:The Salt of Life. But is salt really a cure-all, or is it just another superstition?

salt 41MM087P13L._SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU01_SS75_According to Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky (quoting Jungian pycschologist Ernest Jones):

“In all ages salt has been invested with a significance far exceeding that inherent in its natural properties, interesting and important as these are.  Homer calls it a devine substance, Plato describes it as especially dear to the Gods, and we . . . note the importance attached to it in religious ceremonies, covenants, and magical charms.”

Salt is an essential nutrient for human bodies; therefore we attach great importance to it.  It’s associated with loyalty and friendship, truth and wisdom.  It may have been a key factor in domesticating animals like cattle, it was one of the first international trade commodities, and the entire world used it for preserving food before refrigeration.

Salt does have mild antiseptic properties, but what it really does for wound care, like piercings, is dessicate the wound; i.e., dries it out. In fact, a “super-solution” is sometimes prescribed for troubleshooting pesky hypergranulated piercings, as John Lopez recommended to a piercee with a problem growth near her triangle piercing:

Sounds like a classic hyper-granulation to me. Thats and explosion of capillary rich connective tissue. I’d suggest you dry that puppy out…hard. Not the surrounding tissue, just the growth. Because the piercing is genital it’s hard to do, but you’ll need to do something, right? Here’s what I’d suggest: Mix a strong salt water solution, 2 teaspoons into a cup of water. That’s EIGHT (8) times stronger than normal. Apply this directly to the growth NOTthe general area. You can use a cotton tipped applicator for this. Do it several times per day for a few minutes at a time.

Piercees take great stock in using sea salt (not iodized salt, and preferably pure salt with no additives) on our piercings.  But our medical doctors are skeptical. The email quoted above turned out not to be from the purported author (always check Snopes.com for that kind of stuff, preferably before passing it on!), and the reaction to the suggestions from the medical establishment was dismissive.  “I don’t know of any evidence basis for gargling preventing influenza,” Randy Taplitz, clinical director of infectious diseases at USCD Medical Center (from the Snopes page).  I also read where the gargling thing is a holdover from the 1918 flu outbreak, which I find interesting, because my mother always made me gargle with salt water when sick.  However,   The Mayo Clinic says that salt water gargles can temporarily relieve sore throat discomfort, and that saline sprays are beneficial for colds.  You can check out the real H1N1 tips page from the Center for Disease Control here.

Even though the email was fake and the doctors are skeptical, I don’t think it would hurt to follow them.  Based on my experience, salt water solution can be beneficial in healing.  I can tell you when I had a nasty green spot on a healing surgical incision, the only thing that made it go away, was a sea salt soak.  Cleared it right up, but my doctor was like, WTF?  I’m not a doctor, or a chemical researcher, so I can’t provide a definitive answer, but I woke up with a sore throat this morning, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m just gonna go gargle . . .

Top pic is from Williamgja’s Photostream on Flickr.  Salt book pic is from Amazon. com.

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