Is Himalayan Pink Salt Better For You?

3 minute read
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-and-nutrition-quackery-you-asked/himalayan-pink-salt

We were asked what to make of the many claims circulating about Himalayan pink salt, whether there is any truth to the ideas that this salt will help respiratory illnesses, increase bodily hydration or strengthen bones. There are a lot of claims about Himalayan salt, but let’s start with its origin. 

Himalayan salt is mined primarily at the Khewra Salt Mine in Punjab, Pakistan, and is a result of ancient seas being covered by lava. All the water evaporated, the fish died, but the salt remained, covered by rock. Thus, technically, Himalayan salt is a sea salt, even though it’s mined like rock salt, as it is the result of ocean deposits.

The main claims about Himalayan salt speak to the various ways it is good for you due to its superior mineral content when compared to sea or table salt. While it’s true that table salt is often baked and treated such that all minerals except sodium chloride are removed, most sea salt is left untreated and also contains minerals. Pink salt enthusiasts claim that Himalayan salt has a lower sodium chloride composition than sea salt, meaning it has higher amounts of other minerals like sulphate, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bicarbonate, bromide, borate, strontium, and fluoride.

The actual percentages in Himalayan salt depend on what article you read. This article claims 85.62% sodium chloride and 14.38% other trace minerals, whereas this article claims 87% sodium chloride and 13% other trace minerals. In truth, the number is closer to to the high end, with sodium chloride content being 95-97%, leaving 3-5% composition for other minerals. It’s true that minerals are found in higher abundance in Himalayan salt, but when you factor in how little salt you tend to eat in a day (at least salt you directly add to your cooking or meals) the difference is unnoticeable. In the quantities consumed, minute differences in composition between sea, table and Himalayan salt just don’t matter.

Now to address the many other claims beyond increased mineral consumption. In truth, many of the claims have merit, but almost all of them are the same no matter the kind of salt consumed, and certainly, all of them have been exaggerated. Articles claim that Himalayan salt will ‘create an electrolyte balance’, which is true, but so will sea salt, or even Gatorade. As for the claims that Himalayan salt will lower your blood pressure, that is quite the opposite of reality.

Outside of consuming Himalayan salt, there is some belief that inhaling diffused salt, or bathing in salt baths can be beneficial. There is limited evidence that salt inhalation may help certain conditions, largely due to the intrinsic drying properties of salts. For those suffering from conditions in which bronchial secretions are increased like pleural effusion or COPD can benefit from salt drying these secretions. For those without chronic lung problems, however, halotherapy isnon-effective, and can even aggravate asthma.

In the end, there’s no more health benefit to Himalayan salt than there is to any salt, and in general, salt poses much more of a risk than a reward to our health. By all means, however, continue to use pink Himalayan salt, it’s no worse than sea salt and much prettier! 

Do Fish Drink?

2 minute read
Originally published here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/you-asked/do-fish-drink

Our bodies and fishes’ (yes, fishes is a grammatically correct plural form of fish) bodies as well need water. Without it, the chemical reactions that take place constantly in our bodies would have no solvent and we would die.

Nonetheless, it seems silly that an underwater creature should have to drink. Can’t they just, I don’t know, absorb it or something?

Kind of.

Fish do absorb water through their skin and gills in a process called osmosis. Osmosis is the flow of water across membranes from areas of low concentration of dissolved things (solutes) to areas of high concentration. It serves to equalize the concentrations in the two areas.

In the case of freshwater fish, their blood and bodily fluids are much saltier than the water they swim in, so water will flow in through their gills. The opposite is true for saltwater fish.

As well as getting water through osmosis, saltwater fish need to purposefully drink water in order to get enough into their systems. Where their freshwater counterparts direct all of the water that comes into their mouths out through their gills, saltwater fish direct some into their digestive tract.

But fishes’ bodies, just like ours, need a certain concentration of salt to function best. They can’t just allow the water to diffuse freely through their gills; the saltwater fish would shrivel up and the freshwater fish would explode!

To stop the exploding fish phenomenon, their gills have special cells that selectively pump salt in, or out of their blood. In freshwater fish, the cells constantly pump salt in, and in saltwater fish, they constantly pump salt out. Saltwater fishes’ kidneys also help to filter out some of their salt.

Want to see osmosis for yourself? Submerge some potato slices in salt or fresh water overnight. The saltwater-soaked ones will still be crunchy, but the freshwater ones, having absorbed water, will be softer.

In short: some, but not all, fish drink. Kind of like how some, but not all, fish… fart.

So, keep in mind that next time you’re preparing your fishes’ tank you’re not only creating his environment but his beverages too.

Under The Microscope: Sea Salt VS Table Salt

Originally posted here https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-nutrition/under-microscope-sea-salt-vs-table-salt

Photos 1 and 2 show sea salt, while photo 3 shows table salt.
While they may taste different to the discerning chef and their crystals may look different under the microscope, table salt and sea salt are both essentially just sodium chloride. While sea salt does contain some other minerals, like calcium chloride or potassium sulphate, it is still made up of 90% or more sodium chloride.
Both sodium and chloride ions have important functions. Sodium regulates blood pressure and plays a role in transmitting messages between nerves and muscles while chloride is a component of hydrochloric acid needed for digestion.
The job of maintaining the right concentration of minerals in the blood falls to the kidneys. If blood levels of sodium chloride rise from the ingestion of too much salt, the kidneys will excrete less water in order to dilute the blood and maintain the proper salt concentration. This, however, has the effect of increasing blood volume which can lead to increased blood pressure and swelling in tissues as water leaks out of the bloodstream.
Thirst often accompanies a large intake of salt because water will also be drawn out of cells to help maintain the right concentration of salt in the bloodstream. This is why eating salty foods can lead to both thirst and dehydration! And it makes no difference whether it is table, sea, iodized or Himalayan salt.
The current recommendation is that sodium intake bekept under 2300 mg a day (that is 6000 mg of sodium chloride or roughly one teaspoon) although there is some controversy about whether people with normal blood pressure have to restrict salt intake. Some studies have actually shown that people who consume less than 3000 mg of sodium per day are at greater risk for heart disease than people with an intake of 4000-5000 mg. Most of the salt in the diet comes from consuming processed foods rather than the salt shaker. A single slice of pizza can contain as much as 1000 mg of sodium.