In this day and age where high-tech medicine is the norm. It seems odd that the newest medical breakthrough comes from something that's on almost every kitchen table, salt. A report in the New England Journal of Medicine explains that sea salt may hold the key to helping clear the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis.
"The irony is that in 2006 the real therapy that is treating the basic cause of CF lung disease is going to be inhaled saltwater, and I think that was a shock to a lot of us," says Richard Boucher M.D. at the University of North Carolina.
The research comes from the University of North Carolina, where a concentrated salt water solution called Hypertonic Saline has proven to help lubricate the lungs and clear out that sticky mucus that can collect bacteria and trigger infection among CF patients. A bonus in this discovery is that salt therapy is cheap, with almost no side effects. Researchers are already testing the saltwater therapy in children. And they say they're hopeful that this could prevent or at least delay the kind of lung damage from CF that can make it fatal.
The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health and by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The UNC study involved 24 CF patients who each inhaled the salt solution with or without pretreatment with a compound known as amiloride over two-week periods. Analysis of mucus clearance and lung function showed that the high-salt aerosol alone worked best, which somewhat surprised the medical scientists. Laboratory studies established that the failure of amiloride to promote the effect of hypertonic saline reflected a novel action of the drug, to block water transport. This novel observation in part established hydration of airway surfaces as the mechanism of action for Hypertonic Saline.
Following communication with the UNC group, the Australian researchers used a comparable protocol to study another 164 patients for a longer period, almost a year. During the longer span, the Sydney researchers also found fewer lung problems with the concentrated saline than with normal saline, less need for antibiotics to treat lung infections over time, and improved attendance by patients at school, work and other activities during the 48 weeks.