Now for something completely different, let’s talk about the facts and myths about pink Himalayan salt. I could make this my shortest article ever and state, “it’s salt.” Followed by a mic drop.
But it is a bit more complicated than that. There may be some reason to avoid it, so I will write about all the facts that I can find about Himalayan salt. But spoiler alert, you really shouldn’t be wasting your money on it.
What is Himalayan salt?
Well, this is easy. Like most salt found on land, it is nothing more than dried sea salt. It is simply sodium chloride (NaCl) with impurities that we’ll discuss later.
Then how did it get to the Himalayas?
Himalayan salt is mined from the Salt Range mountains, the southern edge of a fold-and-thrust belt underlies the Pothohar Plateau south of the Himalayas in Pakistan. At one time, several hundred million years ago during the Ediacaran to early Cambrian, these mountains were shallow parts of an ancient ocean. As the mountains were uplifted, the water evaporated and left behind vast salt deposits.
Poorly-paid Pakistani miners dig up salt blocks to be sold as expensive salt — it’s just evaporated sea salt. And due purely to marketing hype, Himalayan salt is 10-20% more expensive than your regular salt.
What makes it pink?
Well, this is kind of easy. The pink color is probably caused by iron oxide, better known as rust. During the period of the earth’s history when these salt deposits formed, iron-banded formations were being eroded depositing the iron oxide near the developing salt deposits.
However, not all Himalayan salt is pink — it varies from green to white to various shades of red depending on which contaminants are found in the salt. But most of the popular types of this salt are almost always pink.
Nevertheless, the facts are that Himalayan salt contains contaminants, like iron, magnesium, and potassium, at higher levels than those found in table salt. It also contains traces of other metals, such as mercury, arsenic, lead, uranium oxide, and thallium, although those are in amounts that probably are not different than what is found in typical sea salt.
What are the health benefits facts of Himalayan salt?
Here is where the pseudoscience creeps in and the facts come out — Himalayan salt has no health benefits. It might have a different taste, but the taste is purely subjective and often fails to be supported by double-blind taste tests.
However, there are no evidence-based medical benefits of Himalayan salt over any other salt one can find. Because Himalayan salt lacks iodine, an essential nutrient that is often added to table salt (or is found naturally in some other salt sources), one could argue that this salt is less beneficial.
Most of the pseudoscientific claims are based on the trace elements found in Himalayan salt. Saving me the time of actually having to tread through the nonsense, Harriett Hall, at Science-Based Medicine, wrote all about these trace elements in Himalayan salt:
Pink Himalayan sea salt is advertised to contain “the 84 trace minerals valuable to the body.” Naïve customers assume that more is better, and that we need more trace nutrients, so those 84 minerals ought to make pink Himalayan salt healthier than regular salt. That assumption is completely misguided.
Most sources list far fewer trace minerals and elements in the human body, from 41 to 60, some in barely detectable amounts. And many of those 60 are toxic and radioactive, not only useless to human physiology but harmful. Radioactive elements like uranium can be detected in trace amounts in the human body, but they should be considered contaminants, not useful nutrients.
I went back and looked at the spectral analysis. It is readily available online and reading it is illuminating. Only 15 minerals are known to play important roles in biological processes, and seven others are considered ““possibly essential but not confirmed.” By my count, only about a quarter of the minerals in Himalayan pink salt are nutrients that the human body can or might be able to use. The other three quarters are not recognized nutrients and would be better classified as contaminants. They have no known health benefits, and many of them are known to be harmful. The list includes many poisons like mercury, arsenic, lead, and thallium. It includes radioactive elements: radium, uranium, polonium, plutonium, and many others. Radiation causes cancer, and even tiny amounts are potentially harmful. The amounts of most of them are listed as less than a certain amount, from <1 ppm to <0.001 ppm, which could mean anything. It could mean there is none present, but bragging about the 84 minerals contained in pink Himalayan sea salt means the company is claiming all 84 are present.
In other words, a few of the trace elements in Himalayan salt are necessary for human physiology, and some of them are quite dangerous. Most of these “trace elements” are better categorized as “contaminants.”
As far as we can tell, there are no benefits to Himalayan salt as compared to any other salt. It’s mostly NaCl, with contaminants that can be found in any other sea salt.
Joe Mercola, the pseudoscientific quack, sells his own brand of Himalayan salt (again, I don’t post links to quack websites), and claims that the salt contains:
..(an) array of elements forms a compound in which each molecule is interconnected. The connectedness allows the vibrational component of the 84 trace elements present in their natural mineral form in the salt to be in harmony with each other and adds to the ability to promote a healthy balance.
Holy verbiage Batman, that’s a long string of science-sounding words that ends up being nothing more than pseudoscientific balderdash.
What about Himalayan salt lamps?
They might look cool, but they also have no benefits. They aren’t going to produce magical ions that will have some magical effect on your body. Seriously, if there was any evidence that this junk science worked, every physician in the world would have one of those lamps in their office. Other than Joe Mercola’s office obviously.
Furthermore, these lamps might have one major problem — your house pets like salt, so they might end up licking the lamp to the point where their lives are endangered, especially if there’s not enough water available to have them remove the salt from their bodies.
So here are more facts about Himalayan salt lamps — it has no benefits at all and they may have a risk for your pets.
There is a paucity of evidence-based facts to support any health benefits of Himalayan salt. It’s probably because it’s just salt, and the contaminants are just insufficient to have any pronounced physiological effect.
If you want to spend more on pink Himalayan salt, go for it. Maybe you think you like the taste better. Maybe you think it looks better.
But it’s just pseudoscience to think it provides any health benefits over what is gained from regular sea salt.