Does Salt Water Cure Everything?
Summer is in full swing. What better time to enjoy being outdoors to relax, exercise, spend time with family and friends, or spend a day at the beach. When spending time at the beach, the phrase “salt water cures everything” may jump to mind. This is a hopeful thought you may have been told as a kid after accumulating a host of bug bites, scratches and scrapes from summer bike riding adventures. Where did the idea of salt water being the ultimate remedy for our scrapes, aches and pains originate, and is it truly beneficial for healing?
One of the earliest written quotes mentioning the saltwater remedy is from a short story written by Isak Denisen in 1934 titled “Seven Gothic Tales.” In the story, one character tells another that the cure for melancholy is saltwater. When questioned about this, he replies “Yes, in one way or the other. Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea.” This idea dates back to British doctors in the 1800's and early 1900's who would “recommend that their patients head for the shore, believing that the shock of submersion in cold, salty and turbulent seawater was beneficial for health.” It was said that doctors even “prescribed” details for how long individuals were to bathe. This prescription for the sea was intended to cure the feeling of pensive sadness known as melancholy.
Additionally, sea air is thought to have some healing powers as well. According to The Atlantic, in 1944, The Journal of the American Medical Association stated the "trifecta" (sun, ocean air and the ocean) as a cure for everything from tuberculosis to the common cold. In a recent article from the Wall Street Journal, President of the American Thoracic Society, Dr. Thomas W. Ferkol, shares there may be some evidence to support the healing powers of ocean air.
There is merit to this as saline, which is a mixture of salt and water, is used often in medicine as a topical solution to clean wounds. Saline is also used to soak dry or itchy skin and to help heal new piercings. The saline solution cleanses the area and promotes an environment that is most favorable for healing. Saline nasal spray is recommended for dry nasal passages, hay fever and other respiratory allergies. Additionally, gargling with salt water can help relieve a sore throat.
However, it is important to note that salt water from the ocean is much different than saline purchased from a pharmacy. The ocean contains not only salt, but oils and lotions from other beachgoers skin, waste from marine life, algae and bacteria, and some amounts of sewage runoff. These potentially infectious contaminates are at such a low concentration that the average swimmer will not have to worry about it. It is important to be aware of red tide (higher-than-normal concentration of microscopic algae), which can cause some swimmers to experience “skin irritation and burning eyes." Heed caution if you are immune suppressed or have a large open wound, and always make sure to shower and wash off thoroughly after swimming in the ocean.
Additional benefits from taking a trip to the ocean are found in the relaxation of hearing waves, being outdoors in fresh air, getting some sunshine (while remembering to apply sun block and take breaks in the shade), and the exercise from swimming in the water. These can add up to boost mood and relieve stress. Being cooped up indoors can take a toll on our mental health, so the change in scenery can provide a much needed break. The fresh air, smell of the ocean and perhaps memories of trips to the beach may be a natural antidote for the melancholy of the modern day.
Salt water may not be a cure for everything, but taking a dip in the ocean is a pastime that is sure to carry on. Spending time by the ocean is a delight to all of our senses. Even thinking about the ocean and sandy shores can put a smile on your face. The salt water from the ocean is a great way to help us slow down and take in the beauty of earth, and it encourages play and exercise and cools us down in the heat of the summer.
Written by: Steve Oram, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern