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Salt and salts from the pharmacy

# Tips | 20. October 2015

Salt for most people is just plain old table salt. For the chemist sodium chloride, for the pharmacist an ingredient of physiological saline solution, a basis for inhalation solution products, nasal drops, or blood volume substitutes. Indeed, salt can do much more: It regulates the body’s fluid and mineral supply as well as blood pressure, ensures a functioning metabolism and a healthy stimulation of nerves and muscles. When applied externally, it relieves various discomforting skin conditions such as acne, eczema or psoriasis.

But “salt” is not only sodium chloride but also a collective term for chemical compounds that consist of a metal cation and an acid radical anion. In particular, some of the inorganic salts have been offered as a simple drug in pharmacies for a long time . Mysterious names such as “Sal Carolinum factitium” (artificial Carlsbad salt, a mixture used as a laxative containing sodium and potassium sulfate, sodium chloride and sodium carbonate) refer already to this long tradition.

Sodium sulfate or “Glauber salt”, for example, was produced by the German physician, pharmacist and chemist Johann Rudolf Glauber in the 17th century. It contains common salt and sulfuric acid, quite a drastic laxative based on the principle of an osmotic effect, which was mainly used for cleansing during Lent. Glauber himself even called it “Sal mirabilis”, the “wonderful” or “amazing” salt.

Miraculous effects were evidenced by “smelling salts” on the basis of ammonium carbonate which, filled in small bottles, was the standard equipment mainly with ladies next to the corset and feather headdress. The released ammonia acted as a stimulant in dizziness and fainting, and so saved some ladies from one or the other form of malaise.

The magnesium-containing counterpart to Glauber salt is the “Epsom salt”, which also acts as a laxative. Both salts interfere in the electrolyte metabolism and are not suitable for everyone nor for continuous use. However, magnesium salts are also a good example of the different properties which can have similar salts, depending on the acid group used. For example, magnesium salts of organic acids such as citrate or aspartate are usually much more soluble and a bioavailable form of salts with inorganic acids, which can play an important role in the treatment of magnesium deficiency. But this is actually a separate chapter of its own, to which you are best advised on by us. Because salt is far from just salt!

Did you know?

Salt gargle for your throat and voice? Stir half a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water and gargle in the morning after getting up and several times a day, if possible after each meal. The salt dissolves mucus and food particles from the tonsils.

Salt for insect bites: water (spit) and salt helps insect bites. The salt disinfects and relieves itching and pain.


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