Salt Lamps: Savior or Sham?
Himalayan salt lamps have become very popular around the world, especially in eastern cultures where they originated. The reason they have become so popular, is because of claims of health benefits which range from air purification to increased blood circulation, increased cerebral serotonin levels, improved sleep, calming allergies, cancer prevention and more.
The theory behind salt lamps is that salt is hygroscopic, or it draws water molecules from the air. In doing so, the salt traps pollen, dirt and smoke particles from water vapor in the air. The follow-up proposition is that after airborne contaminants are trapped in the salt of a salt lamp, “clean” water vapor would be released back into the air. As such, the air has been “purified” by the salt lamp. There is, however, a glitch in sustaining the purification process. Salt does absorb water vapor from the air, but it quickly achieves a state of equilibrium. That is, the salt quickly becomes saturated with water vapor and, therefore, cannot trap any more contaminants. But there is a solution to the equilibrium problem—heat. That’s where the lamp piece comes in. The bulb inside a salt lamp heats and dries the salt so it can keep absorbing water vapor and airborne contaminants.
But what about those health benefit claims? Most are related or linked to salt lamps releasing negative ions into the air which offset positive ions, otherwise known as destructive free radicals. As to the specific claims:
Reducing Electromagnetic Radiation Exposure – since negative ions cancel out positive ions, they have the power to reduce electromagnetic radiation in indoor spaces. Electromagnetic radiation is generated by the ubiquitous electronics present in homes and offices, and exposure to it has been linked to immune system suppression, chronic fatigue, increased stress levels and other maladies. The level of reduction caused by negative ion releases from salt lamps, however, is not clear. It certainly falls short of outright neutralization of electromagnetic radiation.
Breathing Improvements – negative ions increase cilial activity in the trachea, while positive ions have the opposite effect. Cilia are the microscopic hairs that filter the air entering the lungs, so increasing the number of negative ions in the air is believed to reduce the number of foreign particulates and free radicals getting that far.
Reducing Allergy and Asthma Symptoms – people regularly use saline mist to help keep airways clear of pet dander, mold, mildew, dust and other indoor contaminants that can cause asthma and allergy symptoms, as well as other respiratory ailments. As such, it seems logical that using a salt lamp or two in the home or office would help as well.
Mood Elevation – many proponents of salt lamps claim that they increase serotonin levels in the brain, which in turn elevate mood. Such claims, however, have never been proven. That said, studies have shown that salt lamps can help with some forms of depression, such as seasonal affective disorder. However, a causal link between salt lamps and those results has not yet been identified.
Improved Sleep – the claim, or theory with respect to sleep, is that positive ions have a negative effect on blood circulation in the brain which can negatively impact sleeping patterns. However, no studies have proven the theory.
Increased Energy Levels – the claim is that positive ions reduce energy levels in the body, so offsetting them must increase energy levels. While that sounds logical, again there is no scientific support for the claim.
When it comes to salt lamps, the claims of beneficial health benefits are many and bold. But they just are not well supported by scientific evidence. That said, there is little downside for trying one out. One can be picked up at a pretty affordable price and who knows, they may work as claimed.