Is Pink Himalayan Salt Toxic? Radioactive?
As you probably know, salt is vital for survival and migraine prevention (if you don’t, read about it here). Recently, pink Himalayan salt was described in an online article as containing twenty times the level of lead that was harming people in Flint, Michigan as well as containing dangerous levels of radioactive plutonium. In addition, the article stated that if you choose to eat pink Himalayan salt, the lead will remain in your body for life and at one point “you will get sick.”
Is this true?
Pink Himalayan Salt is Not Flint, Michigan Toxic
The lead in some of Flint, Michigan’s residential water was reported by CNN to be 13,000 ppb or 867 times the EPA maximum limit of 15 ppb. Pink Himalayan salt was measured in one analysis to contain 100 ppb of lead or 1/5 of the FDA legal limit for food (CDC link).
Residents in Flint that consumed two liters of water per day were taking in a total of 26,000 micrograms of lead per day.
Two liters of water per day with the maximum EPA limit of 15 ppb of lead results in 30 micrograms of lead per day.
In contrast, twelve grams of pink Himalayan salt per day—a huge amount—with 100 ppb of lead only contains 1.2 micrograms of lead. Salt can have a higher percentage of lead than water, because we can only consume a few grams of salt—which contain an insignificant amount of lead.
The goal set by the EPA for lead in water is 0 ppb because we consume a lot of water and lead can be filtered out of that water. As you can see above, consuming a massive amounts of Pink Himalayan salt only brings in a fraction of the lead found in the homes of Flint, Michigan.
Ok, It’s Not Flint, Michigan Dangerous, But is Pink Himalayan Salt Unhealthy?
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) maximum acceptable concentration of lead in water is 10 ppb. That’s about 20 micrograms of lead if you drink two liters of water per day. That’s a lot more than the 1.2 micrograms of lead you would consume from a huge amount of pink Himalayan salt and 100 times more lead than you would consume from a couple grams of pink Himalayan salt per day.
Let’s Compare Pink Himalayan Salt With Other Salts.
An analysis of thirteen gourmet salts found that the majority of salts contained 500 ppb of lead. One sea salt from France containing 1300 ppb of lead. Regular table salt had 440 ppb of lead (research link). One study found that lead in table salt from Iran ranged from 430 ppb to 1520 ppb and was consistent with the lead in table salt from several other countries (study link). These averages are far higher than the 100 ppb of lead found during an analysis of Original Himalayan Crystal Salt (research link). Lead content will vary in salt depending on the location, brand, and manufacturing processes.
Why is Lead in My Salt?
Lead is found in water, in soil, and in the air we breathe. Lead is a naturally occurring metal found in the Earth’s crust, but high levels of unnatural exposure have become a problem (study link). Uncontaminated soil contains lead concentrations of less than 50,000 ppb, whereas many urban areas exceed 200,000 ppb (CDC link). Lead is everywhere. Average adults may take in anywhere from 15 to 140 micrograms of lead per day with some adults exposed to as much as 274 micrograms of lead per day (research 1, 2).
Salt is Safe.
The European Food Safety Authority studied lead contamination in great detail and salt was of little importance (study link). For example, here are a few foods tested:
|Food||Average Lead levels (PPB)|
|All cereals (wheat, grains, etc.)||27 – 47|
|vegetables||73 – 92|
|wine||25 – 34|
|seafood||54 – 104|
|salt||112 – 178|
|meat||253 – 273|
|spices||331 – 364|
|14.1% of all food samples||Exceeded 10,000|
Salt may seem like it has a considerable amount of lead, but eat a gram of salt with 0.18 micrograms of lead and compare that to a half-pound burger with 55 micrograms of lead–and that’s just the meat, the bun and toppings will contain more lead.
On top of this, 14.1 percent of over 700 food samples tested contained over 10,000 ppb of lead! None of them were salt. The following chart shows that salt is responsible for a small fraction of the lead we are exposed to everyday.
“Lead is Heavy Metal and Heavy Metals in Your Body Remain for Life.”
This statement from the article in question is complete hogwash. About 99 percent of the amount of lead taken into the body of an adult will leave in the waste—yes, from going to the bathroom—within a couple of weeks, but only about 32 percent of the lead taken into the body of a child will leave in the waste (research link).
Lead poisoning in children is a large concern.
The average adult has 30 ppb of lead in their blood and potential psychological problems may occur at 250 ppb (CDC link). Children absorb a lot more lead and a lead blood level as low as 100 ppb is associated with decreased intelligence and impaired neurobehavioral development (CDC link). Again, salt is only going to contain a fraction of a percent of overall lead exposure and is a critical nutrient for hydration and neurological function (Chris Kresser article). Vegetables account for far higher levels of lead exposure and you wouldn’t deprive your child of vegetables for obvious reasons (study link).
Does Pink Himalayan Salt Contain Plutonium?
Yes. However, this is irrelevant, because the natural plutonium in pink Himalayan salt was measured to be less than 1 ppb (research link).
If you asked a nuclear chemist if 1 ppb were a dangerous amount of plutonium, they would laugh at you (research link). In fact, I asked Frank Duncan, a chemist that ran the radiation protection program at Lockheed Martin, home of the Trident Nuclear Missile, if pink Himalayan salt was a concern, and he said, “By saying less than 1 ppb, it could also be less than .001 ppb! But no, the amount of plutonium at that level is of no consequence. Go find something else to worry about.”
Trace quantities of plutonium are produced naturally in our environment and it has been calculated that the human body has always carried a base load of natural plutonium (study link). New research shows that small amounts of radiation may even be needed for life as everything on earth is accustomed to it (Forbes article). Even the unnatural rise of plutonium in our environment from past man-made nuclear reactions “are far too small to cause any recognizable health effects” (study link). While contaminated air from a nuclear facility is a serious concern, according to the CDC, plutonium that is ingested from contaminated food or water does not pose a serious threat to humans because very little plutonium is absorbed by the gastrointestinal track (research 1, 2, 3).
Pink Himalayan salt from the Khewra salt mine, the second largest salt mine in the world, is roughly 500 million years old and is protected deep underground from man-made radioactive exposure. The Khewra salt mine does have natural radiation that is present everywhere on Earth (rocks, soil, water, foodstuff, etc.), but the total amount of radiation to its visitors and workers is less than that of salt mines in other parts of the world and its salt “does not pose any kind of internal hazard to consumers” (study link).
Natural radiation is nothing compared to, say, contaminated fish near a nuclear meltdown. But even eating a large portion of Pacific Bluefin tuna every day for a year that was caught near the Fukushima disaster is only the equivalent of 12 percent of the radiation exposure from flying one way from LA to New York (study link). Radiation is only harmful if it’s a large enough dose. Less than 1 part per billion of natural plutonium in pink Himalayan salt is not going to hurt you, it’s basically undetectable radiation and in the words of a nuclear chemist, “go find something else to worry about.”
What About Refined Table Salt?
Metals can be removed from salt, but this process will also remove vital minerals and typically involves bleach and chemical cleaning. As much as 2 percent of table salt can be anticaking additives, which may include toxic ingredients such as aluminum or sodium ferrocyanide (FDA link). Companies also add in small amounts of dextrose (sugar or corn syrup) to mask the taste of anticaking additives and preserve the added iodine.
To put this in perspective, 2 percent is 20,000,000 ppb. Even a salt that is 99.9 percent pure can contain 0.1 percent or 1,000,000 ppb of stuff that you don’t want. That’s more than the 100 ppb of lead in pink Himalayan salt.
We could compare 1,000,000 ppb of the anti-caking agent sodium ferrocyanide, which can produce cyanide in acidic conditions such as the stomach, to the gas chamber. Poison is poison, right? Wrong. It’s too small of an amount to produce negative side effects as studies on humans injected with sodium ferrocyanide have shown us (WHO research). This is why it is ridiculous to compare the low amounts of toxins in any type of salt to the massive quantities of toxins we are exposed to on a daily bases or to disasters such as the lead contamination in Flint Michigan’s water.
Table salt may contain bleach, corn syrup, and anti-caking agents, but the levels are too low to be a huge health concern. My concern is that table salt tastes horrible in comparison to natural sea salt or pink Himalayan salt.
Table salt is also void of minerals that are required for hydration and migraine prevention (full article). Table salt presents an additional risk because sodium consumed in isolation may also deplete other minerals from your body and cause deficiencies that are common in migraine sufferers such as a magnesium deficiency (study link).
|Pink Himalayan Salt||Sea Salt||Table Salt (Refined)|
|84 trace minerals including chloride, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iodine, and more that are required in small amounts for cellular hydration and migraine prevention.||Sea Salt contains trace minerals that will help with cellular hydration and migraine prevention.||Most minerals are destroyed. Sodium alone will not provide cellular hydration. This may negatively affect hydration and migraine prevention.|
|Over 250 million years old and not contaminated by many of today’s toxins.||Exposed to low levels of today’s toxins that are considered safe.||Most toxins are removed.|
|Has toxic metals such as lead at levels lower than most salts and represents a small fraction of lead exposure from food.||May have low levels of toxic metals. Represents a small fraction of lead exposure from food.||Contains lower levels of toxic metals compared to natural salts. Table salt is often refined with bleach. Bleach is a serious concern for migraines and hypothyroidism, however, table salt will only come with a minimal exposure.|
|Contains small amounts of radioactive material found everywhere in nature, but is not exposed to man-made radiation.||Contains natural radiation and may contain man-made radiation at low levels.||Contains up to 20,000 ppb of anti-caking agent that may include toxic aluminum or a toxin that may produce cyanide. However, levels are too low to be harmful. May also contain low levels of natural radiation and sugar.|
What Salt Should I Buy?
It’s really about personal preference. I like pink Himalayan salt because it tastes great and comes with balanced minerals. The risks that each salt comes with are not significant, but I would still recommend a trustworthy brand. If you are using table salt, it’s important that you get the other minerals required for hydration and migraine prevention elsewhere. Salt is a vital nutrient that is required in combination with other minerals for hydration, brain function, and migraine prevention (full article).