Himalayan Crystal Salt – Balancing the Facts

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I, along with some of our medical team and regulatory approval team recently had the opportunity to read the article: Himalayan Salt – Flint on Global Scale? posted on Hormones Matter.  The article generated an extensive and impressive number of readers and so I hope to share some information that may help make important distinctions about how people can protect themselves from undo lead exposure while maintaining a clear and level headed approach to the products they consume.

Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest

In full disclosure, we supply Original Himalayan Crystal Salt®. In fact we are the only company that has a certificate of analysis on our source of Himalayan Salt, which was the one you referred to. All other suppliers in the U.S. have never done an analysis demonstrating 84 trace minerals or the levels of minerals in their salt, so we can not confirm what is in there. (As a side note, I want to thank you for bringing something to our attention. The website you referenced in this post for the analysis was using the analysis on our Original Himalayan Crystal Salt® while selling a different Himalayan salt that is not associated to that analysis!)

The information I am providing references our salt. I cannot comment on other company’s Himalayan Salt, but only our own Original Himalayan Crystal Salt® as referenced in the book, Water & Salt the Essence of Life.

Our concern is that in the effort to educate people about the tragedy in Flint, Michigan, and by targeting Himalayan Salt a distorted view of the amount of lead in products that people should be concerned about was presented. As a result, an unwarranted and unfounded fear about using Himalayan Salts has been created.

Concerns about Himalayan Salt

Please don’t think that we do not understand that there are concerns over Himalayan Salt. However, the concerns relate to it being spiked with other salt or plastic, explosives being used in the mining process and the dangers and potential contaminants from that process, the “slave” wages that can occur in this region with workers, the use of metal grinders where small particles can come off, versus the use of traditional stone grinders, and the list goes on. Not to mention none of the other sources of Himalayan Salt have ever done full mass analysis of their salt to show what minerals or amounts are in their salt or if their salt has health benefits. The different mining regions are hundreds of miles apart and have different mineral profiles. They have simply referenced all our research and said ‘ours is the same’… now that would be a better story!

About Lead in Food and Water

In relation to the blog post, as you know lead is a naturally occurring element and while it is in very small amounts, the elemental composition of the human body contains lead as well as other trace elements [1]. We also have levels of lead in our blood with the CDC having set a blood lead level (BLL) of 10 µg/dL for adults and 5 µg/dL for children.

The typical daily intake from food sources is between 5-50 mcg [2]. Some of the highest levels of lead are found in seafood (average of 0.2 ppm or 200ppb) and foods grown in high lead soil, as well as our environment [2]. Lead can be found in the air we breathe, the soil that grows our foods and the earth our children play on, drinking water, contaminated pipes, certain foods and paint [3]. With that being said, there are standards set by the U.S. government (EPA, FDA, OSHA, CDC and CPSC) [4] to regulate the amount of exposure one might experience since it is well-known that excessive exposure has health implications. The article presents the lead levels for water, however, because actual levels approved for salt or any of the other things that expose us to lead were not cited, the  audience had no frame of reference and were comparing apples and oranges.

In your article you referred to the EPA standards that the lead level of zero is acceptable in drinking water [4]. To clarify, this level is set for drinking water, not all sources that one might be exposed to and this is where confusion has been created and may have mislead the audience. Comparing lead levels found in Original Himalayan Crystal Salt® cannot be compared to that found in drinking water, as the regulatory levels are different. A lead level of 15 µg /L or higher in drinking water is cause for action by the EPA. This equals 0.015ppm or 15 ppb [3,4]. The report on CNN indicated that the homes in Flint, MI showed 13,000 ppb. No doubt, this is cause for concern.

When we are talking about food and food sources, the FDA has set different guidelines. The action level for foods is set at 0.5 µg /mL, which equates to 500ppb [3,5]. As you stated, Original Himalayan Crystal Salts® contain 100ppb, which is 1/5 of the level that would cause the FDA to take action on a food source. The most common sources of lead in food can happen during the production or packaging of foods. The CDC states that the bright red and yellow paints found on bread bags and on candy may contain lead. The way in which food is stored can also contribute to lead exposure. Candy, especially chili-based from Mexico, may be a source of lead contamination [5]. An extensive study was published in 2010 [6] that found lead in many sources of foods including:

  1. Cereal and cereal products
  2. Sugar and sugar products, chocolate
  3. Fats (animal and vegetable)
  4. Vegetables, nuts and pulses
  5. Starchy roots and potatoes
  6. Fruits
  7. Juices, soft drinks and bottle water
  8. Coffee, tea and cocoa
  9. Alcoholic beverages
  10. Meat and meat products, offal
  11. Fish and seafood
  12. Eggs
  13. Milk and dairy based products
  14. Miscellaneous and special dietary foods
  15. Tap water

Based on this study, consumers may find it interesting that some of the foods with the highest lead levels were:

  • Coffee: averaging 0.22ppm or 220ppb [6]
  • Meat: averaging 0.2534ppm or 253.4ppb [6]
  • Various dietary herbs, including algae and algae based supplements: average 0.3652ppm or 365.2ppb [6]

All of which we consume in much higher quantities than salt. Proposition 65 regulations in California are also important to review as they are even more stringent and combine lead levels in food, supplements etc. with the amount consumed of that item. Our Original Himalayan Crystal Salt® is also Proposition 65 compliant. I think it is important for consumers to know all of the food sources that contain lead so they can truly make informed decisions. And they should also be informed of the other sources of lead contamination so decisions can be made about how to reduce their total exposure.

Other Elements in Salt

When talking about salt, it is also important to differentiate between the various salt sources. Table salt contains sodium and chloride (NaCl) and may contain iodine depending on which version you purchase. It is refined at very high temperatures, altering the chemical structure and bioavailability. Additionally, it is chemically cleaned, bleached and treated with an anti-clumping agent so it won’t stick. The two most common anti-clumping agents are sodium alumino-silicate and calcium aluminosilicate, both of which are a source of aluminium [7]. In relation to sea salt, due to pollution in our oceans we have increased concern about mercury and petro-chemicals and the list goes on.

Original Himalayan Crystal Salt® comes from the earth, specifically the Himalayan Mountains. It contains 84 trace minerals including sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iodine, iron, zinc, manganese and others, all of which the human body needs for optimal function. It is hand mined using no explosives, we pay workers living wages with a Quality Control process that includes testing batches and use stone grinders, not metal, to ensure no contamination and that Original Himalayan Crystal Salt® does not pose a threat to the health of consumers who use it [1,2,7,8].

Regards,
James Frame, CEO

Natural Health InternationalOriginal Himalayan Crystal Salt, and Femmenessence

References:

  1. Rolfes S., Pinna K, & Whitney E. Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning; 2012.
  2. Stipanuk M & Caudill M. Biochemical, Physiological and Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition. St, Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2013.
  3. Lead Toxicity Where is Lead Found? Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Website. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=7&po=5.
    Published August 20, 2007. Updated August 20, 2010. Accessed January 27, 2016.
  4. Lead Toxicity, What Are the U.S. Standards for Lead. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Website. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=7&po=8 Published August 20, 2007. Updated August 20, 2010. Accessed January 27, 2016.
  5. Lead and Copper Rule. United States Environmental Protection Agency Website. http://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/lead-and-copper-rule. Updated January 6, 2016. Accessed January 27, 2016.
  6. Scientific Opinion on Lead in Food. EFSA Journal 2010;8(4):1570. http://www.efsa.europa.eu/sites/default/files/scientific_output/files/main_documents/1570.pdf. Published April 20, 2010. Updated March 22, 2013. Accessed January 26, 2016.
  7. Hendel B and Ferreira P. Water & Salt The Essence of Life. Natural Resources; 2003.
  8. Saldanha, Carlin N.D. Why the right Salt is essential to your health.
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6 Comments

  1. James,

    I have been a loyal user of your salts and consume sole daily. It’s become such a critical component of my daily routine that both the sole and ground salt accompany me in my travels abroad. I feel great when I’m using the product and will continue to do so, for life. Thank you for clearing up this confusion and properly educating these followers.

    Respectfully,
    Ken

  2. Dear James,

    In answer to your article:

    Thank you James for your balancing facts document. I appreciate many of the things you stated, including the conflict of interest. I particularly appreciate to know that it was your spectral analysis I used since I found that to be really the only full information available about Himalayan salt—which is odd. Thank you for providing that invaluable table.

    I also agree that there are content variations between salt regions—this is also visible by the colors. Some salt batches have lots of colors indicating more metals in them than other batches that are void of colors. Such batch differences exist within a teaspoon of Himalayan salt sample showing that there is significant variation in metal content. I am assuming that you were aware of this when your company conducted the spectral analysis. I hope you took multiple samples that meet the statistically required sample sizes and used statistical calculations to the mean to come up with the “average” metal content of the salt in general and have not picked and made your analysis based on the metals found in one spot. Any information on this would be more than welcomed.

    I would love to look through different areas of the same salt pile taking hundreds of samples and measuring them all for a coherent analysis stating that, on average, Himalayans salt has x amount of lead whereas another salt has y amount, as noted by another company, whose values are different from yours. As you noted earlier that your salt is mined in a special way and is totally pure, etc., given its “mineral” differences from other salts also collected in the Himalayas that do show differences, I am making the assumption that your measurement of minerals must also have come from hundreds of measures that you have evaluated independently and then provided a mean as did the other company who checked a different badge.

    This can be explained and it also means that lead amounts may significantly vary across batches and while it may be minimal amount of lead in some, it may not be so little in others. To be fair, this information should be available to everyone everywhere, written clearly as US FDA laws require the list of “minerals” as long as the term “minerals” are mentioned since those are supplements. Since your company mentions 84 such minerals, the list must be on the label of every package of salt your company sells, as per law. The fact that this is not available, again, is curious. The fact that it is not available from anyone who sells Himalayan salt is quite against FDA regulations.

    I also appreciate your concerns with slave workers and methods of getting to the salt since that is an important ethical concern whether one should choose to purchase any item that is associated with slavery or major nature destruction, such as explosions of mines to get to the salt. While this is a major concern in decision of which salt one may buy, it has little bearing on the contents of the salt. Himalayan salt is from Pakistan and not from the Himalayas at all, which I found to be an interesting conflict of information #1 given the high ethical concern you bring forth. Why are we not calling it Pakistani salt? Is this a misinformation for any particular commercial reason? If so that would greatly impact the ethical concern you note. I suppose using Pakistani salt is not as exotic in the mind of the user as salt from the Himalayas and that could impact revenues.

    Many comments on my original article attacked the lead content of water compared with lead content of salt. There was no such comparison in my paper; it was something misunderstood and taken out of context because I mentioned Flint but by no means had I stated anything about Himalayan (or Pakistani) salt being comparable to water. Of course we live in an environment where lead is in many things we cannot avoid. We obviously have to breathe (alas perhaps not without a mask in China) and we also have to eat. I am aware of the much harm various industries do to our environment in order to profit and I am hoping that your company is not one of them.

    It is also interesting to note that what is labeled as healthy minerals by those who sell or use Himalayan (Pakistani) salt, it is labeled “contaminated with” in Wikipedia which I find to be an interesting conflict #2.

    It is very difficult to find any scientific data on lead studies in Himalayan (Pakistani) salt though I did find one article that criticizes Himalayan salt that is of scholarly in nature by an MD (Hall, 2014). Though other scientific articles from unbiased parties are impossible to find, I found an unscientific account of summing up some of the “minerals” in Himalayan (Pakistani) salt, that takes the mineral information from the book “Water & Salt, The Essence of Life by Dr. Barbara Hendel MD and Peter Ferreira,” a book I admittedly did not read. I am noting that it lists mineral contents of the salt exactly the same as your spectral analysis. I find this curious given how you state that methods of collection create different mineral content and my chemistry understanding of the meaning of color variations implying metal variation levels also tell me that it is impossible to get two identical spectral analyses on two different batches of impure salt. Here is a sample from their book that is the same as your spectral analysis:

    “Arsenic As 33 <0.01 ppm
    Cadmium Cd 48 <0.01 ppm
    Mercury Hg 80 <0.03 ppm
    Lead Pb 82 0.10 ppm
    Polonium Po 84 <0.001 ppm
    Uranium U 92 <0.001 ppm
    Plutonium Pu 94 <0.001 ppm” (find the article here)

    So whose spectral analysis is the one on your website? Does this book or its authors belong in some way or are connected to your company?

    You refer to data that I also looked up that are given in the original tables for European food values (no mention of US in the article). So you noted that this article (labeled as 6 by you) states lead amount in coffee, dietary herbs, and meat that are higher than the Himalayan (Pakistani) salt. True. In the US though we have different land, different meats though we may have the same coffee and that can be avoided than in Europe. In general, we have different lead tolerances per country. I found only the UK is similar, if not stricter, than the US.

    Though it was attacked by many, I did not compare water with salt or anything else in my previous article. I simply compared lead to lead in “whatever” so the substance in which lead was, is irrelevant—this appears to have been misunderstood by many. I did not actually compare apples to oranges; I compared lead to lead regardless where it was found. I really wanted to compare apples to apples, but for that I would have to look at other Himalayan (Pakistani) salt spectral analysis and there is no such as they all link back to your analysis (Klatt, 2014).

    Himalayan salt discussion in any paper (there are only a dozen academic papers) all focus on the lack of iodine in Himalayan salt. I found many articles on Himalayan salt causing goiter because it has not enough iodine in PubMed (Shafi, et al., 2015) (Sooch, et al., 1973) and many more.

    Some people have commented on Himalayan salt lamps and I must add: they are not from the Himalayan either but from Europe as well as Asia.

    There is so much misinformation about this pink fossilized millions of years old salty rock that I cannot help but wonder what is really in this fossil that people are willing to fight for even if it has lead in it?

    We cannot know what really is in this fossilized salt until an independent analyst properly analyzes what is in this ancient rock full of colors that represent heavy metals with the taste of salt. Some independent analyses have taken place and provide very different information from what is claimed (at this link you need to hit “translate”) such as the Bayer State Office for Health and Food Safety (LGL) that tested 15 different samples and they came up with 8 elements only. They are legitimately asking why there are 84 minerals stated when there are only 8?

    I looked closer at the CDC website for acceptable levels of lead in people (not in salt or food but in people). I found that 10 micrograms per deciliter (100 ppb) as per this converter is harmful for children. This is a general statement under “Childhood Lead Poisoning Publications” at the CDC here. In fact, and I quote, “Permanent neurological damage and behavioral disorders have been found to be associated with lead exposure at blood levels at or below 5 µg/dL” i.e. 50 ppb. Again, this is not in salt but their lead level in blood from whatever children eat collectively “as they are.” Since lead is a heavy metal that collects and stays in the body building up in the bones (it leaves the blood after over a month to some level but not the bones), anything that adds up to 5 µg/dL or 50 ppb is a concern, see that here too.

    The Himalayan (Pakistani) salt has lead content of 100 ppb, which exceeds the CDC concern toward children as “collective lead collected” from all foods eaten, juices drank, and air breathed and not just salt ingested on its own. I am not comparing anything to anything; just stating facts.

    If 50 parts of something is a health concern, then 100 part of the same thing is a major health concern.

    It is difficult to copy paste a table into a comment so I cannot but if you scroll down to the table in the above publication here you will find the number of children aged under 5 in many US states who had exceeded the unhealthy lead status. The numbers are quite scary and this was prior to the “Himalayan Pink salt” fad since the data only goes to 2012. If you read the entire report, you find out that many states didn’t provide data so it is not the whole country either. It is also interesting to note that this data still reflects homes that have lead based paint in them and so this does not even include the lead the kids ingest from Himalayan (Pakistani) salt!

    There is also a discussion on lead found in air as dust with working adults. OSHA has requirements for reporting and sending people home and to their doctors is lead in the air exceeds certain level. Lead is a problem in adults too not just in children.

    If lead is a problem in every shape and form and cannot be removed from the body (no, not even chelation, unless you wish to do some potential harm to your body) because it is in the bones and not in the body fluids, why are we taking the chance? Interestingly I find more information on lead poisoning in the UK than in the US so our standards clearly lack though the fact that lead accumulates and causes major damage is well documented in the US too and here they note that even containers that may have lead paint in them should not be used to hold food.

    So if we cannot even eat food out of a plate that has some lead in its glaze then why should we be eating lead containing food when we can avoid it?

    We cannot always avoid lead. It is inherently in many things. No one is being blamed for taking a deep breath of air that is not as fresh as we hoped it was. But salt? We can choose. Plus, I do have an aversion to getting misleading information of the origin of something and when the ingredients are so hidden that no amount of research reveals anything. Secrets have never been something I trusted as I prefer to make an educated decision based on available information. I would never ever pick any food or supplement up that does not follow FDA guidelines by listing all its minerals so long that they claim they are in there.

    References
    Hall, H. (2014). Pass the Salt (But Not That Pink Himalayan Stuff). https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/pass-the-salt-but-not-that-pink-himalayan-stuff/.
    Klatt, K. (2014). Sea Salt Pseudoscience. http://nutrevolve.blogspot.com/2014/06/sea-salt-pseudoscience.html.
    Shafi, A., Chauhan, R., Gill, T., Swarnkar, M., Sreenivasulu, Y., Kumar, S., . . . Singh, A. (2015). Expression of SOD and APX genes positively regulates secondary cell wall biosynthesis and promotes plant growth and yield in Arabidopsis under salt stress. Plant Mol Biol. 2015 Apr;87(6):615-31. doi: 10.1007/s11103-015-0301-6. Epub 2015 Mar 10.
    Sooch, S., Deo, M., Karmarkar, M., Kochupillai, N., Ramachandran, K., & Ramalingaswami, V. (1973). The Kangra valley experiment: prevention of Himalayan endemic goitre with iodinated salt. Acta Endocrinol Suppl (Copenh). 1973 Oct;179:110.

  3. I also wanted to share the credentials of our Medical Team
    Henry Meissner PhD in nutritional biochemistry
    Shawn Tassone MD, PhD, FACOG
    Kathryn Landherr MD, OBGYN
    Tori Hudson ND
    Jan Roberts Pharmacist and Clinical Nutritionist
    Corey Schuler PhD(c), DC and Licensed Nutritionist
    Kim Ross Licensed Nutritionist

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