Is there anything better than sliding into a warm, aromatic bath, especially after strenuous exercise or a hard day’s work? The heated water just seems to know how to penetrate every part of the body that needs healing, as the scent of eucalyptus or lavender clears the mind and calms the heart. For thousands of years, humans have been instinctively drawn to soaking in warm waters as a method of healing, especially if the source is natural like a mineral hot spring. As nature’s “spa” treatment, we know that mineral springs are certainly relaxing, but do they really have healing benefits? Research is now showing that while every health claim made for mineral springs isn’t verifiable, many of them are.
Instinct & Investigation
Mineral springs are naturally occurring bodies of warm water that have a high concentration of minerals and salts. Located all over the world, their warm, deep blue and turquoise waters have attracted humans seeking healing for thousands of years. Most contain sulfur, which provides hardy whiffs of hydrogen sulfide or the traditional rotten egg smell. Considering the health benefits some claim mineral hot springs offer, most people don’t seem to mind the odor. The waters also contain ample amounts of calcium, sulfate, magnesium, iron, chloride, potassium, and zinc. Today, entire spa resorts are built around mineral springs all over the world.
Many health claims have been made for mineral springs including improving circulation, metabolism and the absorption of certain minerals. In Japan, where soaking in mineral hot springs is an ancient tradition, it’s said they can be used to treat chronic digestive diseases, constipation, diabetes, gout, and liver problems.
That might be pushing it a bit, but research is being done in all these areas with regard to mineral springs, particularly in Japan, Europe and the Middle East. It’s called balneology, which is the study of the treatment of disease by bathing, mostly in mineral rich waters. Although it’s a relatively new field of study, balneology has been able to scientifically verify some of the things we’ve known instinctively about mineral springs for a long time.
Sea salt contains many minerals, and the waters of the Dead Sea have been found to have a positive correlation with measurable improvements in arthritis and various skin problems. Other benefits include relief from the symptoms of fibromyalgia and inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, as well as high blood pressure.
Millions of people report relief from symptoms from a wide range of conditions after bathing in mineral springs, and some with inflammatory skin conditions have claimed that the bathing was a crucial part of their remission. German research is showing the magnesium ions in mineral water to be particularly responsible for the marked improvement in skin diseases. With regard to the Dead Sea, some research has attributed its healing effects to its high salt content and unique mineral profile. Even so, some experts state that the effectiveness of balneotherapy in actually curing disease remains unclear.
Temperature is the Trick
Some Japanese hot spring spas feature several different pools to meet different needs. A high sodium-calcium-chloride pool might be recommended for youthful looking skin, while a calcium-magnesium pool would be the choice to help with allergies and inflammation. While some spas around the world invite you to drink the water as well, it’s not recommended.
Most mineral springs average around 100° F, while some may be hotter. Where there are multiple pools, the idea is to start in the coolest pool and gradually work your way up through the hotter pools as you acclimate yourself to increasing temperatures. Although intense at times, it’s the heat that has shown to play an important role in pain relief. A meta-analysis of studies has revealed that it’s both the high heat and water pressure that work together to block pain receptors in the body. It’s also suspected that the high mineral concentration in the water makes the bather feel more buoyant, thus providing more relief for the joints and muscles. For these reasons, research has shown that balneotherapy may be able to help alleviate lower back pain, especially at higher temperatures.
Other research is showing that the benefits of mineral springs go beyond relieving aches, pains and skin conditions. A recent Japanese study found that patients with chronic heart failure who soaked regularly in hot springs experienced a decrease in blood pressure and improvement in their symptoms.
Regardless of what your physical condition may be, everyone can benefit in some way from a long soak in a mineral hot spring, mostly because of the relaxation that’s part of the experience. When we release our tension while immersed in hot water, blood pressure drops, arteries expand, circulation increases, and every cell of the body gets more oxygen and nutrients for healing.
Even metabolism gets temporarily boosted. It’s the high temperature in the water that not only helps us release our physical tension, but involuntarily let go of our mental tension, as well. By using a physical stimulus, we trigger a mental release. In this state, every physiological process will work better. So perhaps the healing secret is in the water and not the minerals, and maybe we don’t have to go any further than our own bathtub to achieve a lot of the same benefits that mineral springs offer. After all, research has shown that regular hot baths not only decrease stress, but improve sleep.
Spa at Home
Of course, no one gets a great body by going to the gym for a single workout. It’s a practice that must be repeated to experience the overall benefit. As such, bathing in mineral springs isn’t likely to do you much good unless you can do it on a regular basis. In Japan, mineral hot springs are common, and bathing in them is seen as a communal activity. So naturally, the Japanese reap most of the benefits because the practice is built into their daily lives.
Still, you don’t need to spend a lot of money visiting spas or traveling the world in search of the most pristine mineral hot springs. Just sinking into a hot bath a few nights each week with the right essential oils, Epsom salts, or whatever additives serve your purpose should do the trick. Close your eyes, use your imagination, and you’re as good as at a mountaintop retreat. Not only will you reap many of the same benefits, but you’ll save a lot of money, which will go a long way toward relieving stress, as well.
For more health insights from Dr. Sadeghi, please visit beingclarity.com to sign up for the monthly newsletter or check out his annual health and well-being journal, MegaZEN here. For daily messages of encouragement and humor, follow him on Instagram at @drhabibsadeghi.