New age health: Neti pot and Salt crystal lamps

I’m not really a gullible person. I tend to prefer claims backed up by multiple reputable research sources. That said, I am willing to try things that are a bit “out there” if the potential negatives are balanced out sufficiently. I mean, even if something doesn’t really work, if it does little or no harm it may help purely via the placebo effect.

This brings me to a couple of things I’ve invested in recently. The first actually has a fair amount of supporting medical research to support it. The second is pretty much debunked. Yet I’ve adopted both into my life, well aware of the limitations of each. I’m referring to the use of neti pots (or nasal lavage) to improve sinus health, and the second is the use of Himalayan salt lamps.

Neti Pot / Nasal lavage

neti_pot.jpgThe basic idea of the neti pot is to flush salt water through your sinuses. Some lavage methods have the cleansing solution (basically salt water perhaps PH balanced with sodium bicarbonate) flow into your throat, others flow the solution from one nasal passage to the other: the neti pot approach uses the latter method.

There isn’t a great deal of solid medical understanding of exactly how nasal lavage improves nasal health, but the benefits themselves are documented by numerous medical bodies, including the Mayo clinic. The best theories are that, by cleaning out or flushing the accessible sinuses (the ethmoid and maxillary sinuses), the sinus’ self cleansing systems are better able to “catch up” with the cleaning in the less accessible sinuses. Doctors world wide are now commonly recommending nasal lavage in general and the Neti pot method in particular as a supplemental treatment to reduce reliance on corticosteroids and antibiotics.

So, the Neti pot works, we just don’t yet know exactly how (although we do have some good theories). However, on first glance it can be a rather difficult thing to imagine doing every day. I don’t like fluid in my sinuses: I react strongly and instinctively whenever my head is submerged- it is one of several reasons that I am afraid (if not phobic) of deep water. So it took a lot of convincing for me to try nasal lavage. And I did so in a rather incremental way.

First I bought a commercial “compressed fluid” cleaner. Basically, it shoots a stream of (moderate pressure) saline, and the idea is that the fluid will go into your sinuses and down your throat. I found two problems with this approach. First, it is expensive: about $10 a tin, and the tin only lasted me about three days. Second, I found that it got the fluid into my sinuses, but it didn’t drain… and it was uncomfortable. So I read some more, watched a couple of “how to” videos on Youtube (the cute blonde didn’t influence me at all…), and then went back to London Drugs and bought a SinuCleanse neti pot.

I’ve been using the SinuCleanse pot and pre-packaged salt/sodium bicarbonate for over two months now. I don’t use it every day: probably three or four days a week. And I find it really does seem to work: on days where I feel continuously congested, a quick neti pot cleansing helps me breath more clearly for six to eight hours. That’s at least as good as most nasal sprays, and isn’t pumping me full of quite so many chemicals. When I first started using this system I was on the tail end of a cold and was about to go to the doctor because my sinuses had been badly congested for over three weeks: within a week, my sinuses were back to normal, and I never did go to the doctor.

Salt Lamps

salt_lamp.jpg In simple terms, a “salt lamp” (sometimes called a “Himalayan salt lamp”) is a chunk of rock salt with a light bulb inside it. The sellers of these purport that the bulb heats the salt, and through some mysterious method involving moisture and alchemy, negative ions are produced. If you believe the sales brochure, we are surrounded by “bad” positive ions created by electronic devices, and we all need to balance this out with negative ions to improve our health, our “chi”, and our feng shui… or something like that.

I saw these at a Shoppers Drug Mart home health care store some months ago, and thought they looked neat. The purported health benefits sounded pretty unlikely to me, and my subsequent research seemed to support my skepticism. I don’t really see how a chunk of rock with a warm lightbulb is going to produce negative ions and, furthermore, there is no real medical evidence indicating that negative ions, positive ions, or some kind of balance between them is beneficial.

So, that leaves the use of a salt lamp as a decorative item. They do glow a nice colour, and I could imagine that under the right circumstances the heated salt could produce a pleasing (although likely very subtle) scent. I liked the appearance of the glowing rock, and so I was quite happy when Irene offered to buy me one. I have no illusions regarding the purported medical benefits: however, if the ambient light pleases me, it may very well have a calming placebo effect. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with claiming a purely emotional or “spiritual” benefit from something. Just be careful about expecting any kind of real, measurable medical benefit.

6 thoughts on “New age health: Neti pot and Salt crystal lamps”

  1. “And I don’t think there is anything wrong with claiming a purely emotional or “spiritual” benefit from something.”

    Of course not – that is after all, the justification for most ( and I think most worthwhile ) art, be it painting, sculpture, music or poetry. And the rock looks cool.

    Not sure about the pouring stuff in my nose thing … but my congestion issues are pretty clearly allergy related, and when I can avoid the allergens I’m okay. Seasonally when I can’t avoid the willow pollen, I’m so plugged that I wouldn’t be able to pour anything in my sinuses anyway.

  2. I agree that the “spiritual” benefit, or whatever you want to call it, is all the justification someone should need. But it is funny how we humans always seem to want something more concrete. I suppose a marketing blurb that said “it’s a chunk of rock, with a bulb in it!” is less appealing than selling some sort of mystical health benefit.

    I had pretty much the same assumptions as you re: congestion defeating the neti pot. It seems counter-intuitive: if my sinuses are so blocked that I can barely draw air through, how can I flush them out with water? But I found even when I was nearly totally blocked (i.e.: almost had to breath through my mouth), I could still get water flowing between the nostrils. Probably the fact that I first started using a neti pot when I *was* that congested was a good thing- it showed me that (for the most part) I could still use it even then.

    That said, I think in the midst of a cold I’d likely still use a nasal spray to open up the sinuses first, then the neti pot once some air is moving. The lavage just helps clear out the fluid and keeps things “flowing” , so the less accessible sinus cavities (the sphenoid and frontal sinuses) can start to clear out. For me this is a really good thing: I’m prone to getting “anaerobic infections” in the upper sinuses, which means I probably have constricted connections which can easily become completely stopped up. It may help to avoid that if I can keep stuff moving out consistently.

    I read somewhere that our sinuses produce and flush out about a liter of mucous a day. That is… both amazing and disgusting at the same time. It also help me put in perspective the 250 ml of fluid I use with the neti pot.

    I had very big doubts about my comfort level even trying the neti pot- I was contemplating it for about a year. But once I watched a few of those videos on Youtube, I figured the worst that would happen is I’d try it a couple of times and never want to try it again. I picked up the process pretty quickly: after two or three times, I wasn’t prone to the mistake of trying to breathe through my nose while cleansing, for example 🙂

  3. It has amazed me how during the 6 years I have been offering Salt Lamps for sale they have gone from being a beautiful work of Mother Natures Art to being the latest and greatest snake oil offering to cure all that ails you. You can read some additional opinions including a humorous NY Time article on my blog

    Then if you want something beautiful to admire (and are not expecting a medical miracle) check out our collection at

    Thanks for the post.

  4. Welcome to my blog, Jerry! It’s nice to see someone selling salt lamps as simply something attractive to decorate your home, rather than as some sort of miracle cure 😉

  5. We have been selling the Rhino Horn neti pots in the USA for some time. There have been a number of medical studies describing the benefits of nasal irrigation (ie the use of neti pots), it is a tool used in the treatment of pollen allergies and sinusitis but not a cure all for everyone

  6. You mention the proposed mechanism for nasal irrigation. When hypertonic solutions are used (and it is hypertonic solutions which most of the health benefits are associated with) it could be that nasal irrigation reduces inflammation (presumably by osmosis) which would help the sinuses to drain. See, Mechanism of nasal irrigation, for a more in depth discussion.

    BTW, that salt lamp is pretty!

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