By Lauren Pastrana

PEMBROKE PINES (CBSMiami) — If you want to make your food taste better, you might add a dash of salt. If you want to make yourself feel better, a room full of salt may be the answer.  The room is typically dark, quiet, calming, and it is designed to help you breathe easier.

It is called a salt cave, but it’s not tucked away underground.

This one is hidden within a Pembroke Pines office park.

“I’m here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” Larry Hirt tells CBS4’s Lauren Pastrana.

Hirt has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and breathing is a struggle.

“There’s a breathing exercise, you’ve probably heard of it, where you breathe in for four seconds, hold for four, then you let it out. When I first get in here, I can’t even get to three seconds breathing in. After 20 minutes, I can hold to four or five,” he explains.

Salt therapy, also known as halotherapy, has roots in Eastern Europe dating back to the 1840s.

Inside the salt cave at the Vita Health Acupuncture and Wellness Center in Pembroke Pines (CBS4)

The homeopathic remedy is supposed to help patients ease respiratory problems, allergies, certain skin conditions and even anxiety.

“It’s relaxing,” Hirt said. “It doesn’t smell like salt to me.”

Doctors David and Yelena Pakula operate this particular salt cave at the Vita Health Acupuncture and Wellness Center.

“We had visited some of these salt caves in Europe, and we thought this is so great. We just wanted to bring that back to America. It took us a while. A lot of salt rooms opened up in America, but they weren’t using the European style of the simulated salt cave. But we wanted to get that environment for our patients,” Dr. David Pakula said.

They say salt therapy can benefit anyone, even children, whether they have a chronic condition or a simple cold or flu.

“If you want to build your immune system you’re also recommended to do this seasonally,” Dr. Yelena Pakula explained.

However, before you start filling an extra room with lots of salt, it is important to note, the salt covering the walls and floor at this salt cave is really just for atmosphere. The true therapeutic benefits come from a vent connected to a salt generator.

“It’s grinding it up in to very super fine particles and it’s blowing it in to the room through a pipe that enters the room,” Dr. Pakula demonstrates.

The concentration of salt in the air is monitored to make sure it stays at therapeutic levels.

“All medicines have side effects and they don’t always do what they’re advertised to do. So it’s always great to have a natural alternative to medicine,” Dr. Pakula said. “And that’s what this is. Everybody wants something natural, right?”

Some experts stress salt therapy isn’t a “cure”, but rather a way to manage certain conditions.

The American Lung Association says evidence-based findings on the pros and cons of salt therapy are limited, so it is important to consult with your doctor before trying any new treatments.

As for Larry, he says he is not on any medication for his COPD and is a very satisfied salt cave customer.

“I leave here feeling better every time,” he said.

Salt draws out moisture, so patients are encouraged to stay hydrated after a session, which usually costs less than $40.

Lauren Pastrana

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