Thermal and mineral waters, balneotherapy

Gruiz Katalin

Therapeutic properties of mineral waters are due to their physical characteristics or chemical composition.

Healing mineral waters can be inhaled, swallowed or applied as a spa.

The Hungarian spa culture is over 2,000 years old. The ruins of the old Roman spa buildings demonstrate that the Romans also used the water of the springs for therapeutic purposes.

Hungary's world-famous spa waters and the spas from various time periods are major tourist attractions.

Balneotherapy is the treatment of disease by bathing, usually practiced at spas.While it is considered distinct from hydrotherapy, there are some overlaps in practice and in underlying principles. Balneotherapy may involve hot or cold water, massage through moving water, relaxation or stimulation. Many mineral waters at spas are rich in particular minerals (silica, sulfur, selenium, radium) which can be absorbed through the skin. Medicinal clays are also widely used, which practice is known as 'fangotherapy'.

The term "balneotherapy" is generally applied to everything relating to spa treatment, including the drinking of waters and the use of hot baths and natural vapor baths, as well as of the various kinds of mud and sand used for hot applications. Balneotherapy refers to the medical use of these spas, as opposed to recreational use.

Common minerals found in spa waters are sodium, magnesium, calcium and iron, as well as arsenic, lithium, potassium, manganese, bromine, and iodine. All these may be contained in the peat that is commonly used in preparation of spa waters. Resorts may also add minerals or essential oils to naturally-occurring hot springs. Though balneotherapy commonly refers to mineral baths, the term may also apply to water treatments using regular hot or cold tap water.

In addition to bathing, modalities such as hydrotherapy, mud therapy, physical therapy, massage, steam baths, physical exercises, inhalation of water vapor, and drinking mineral water are often used as part of a complex therapy for both health and preservation and treating disease.

Over the past four centuries, the science of balneology has evolved into a medical specialty in Europe and Japan, where special courses in balneotherapy are offered to both physicians and nurses by major medical schools. Doctors believe that thermal springs facilitate healing in a number of important ways.

Ways Balneotherapy Heals:

1. Bathing in hot springs gradually increases the temperature of the body, thus killing harmful germs and viruses.

2. Thermal bathing increases hydrostatic pressure on the body, thus increasing blood circulation and cell oxygenation. The increase in blood flow also helps dissolve and eliminate toxins from the body.

3. Hot springs bathing increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, bringing improved nourishment to vital organs and tissues.

4. Bathing in thermal water increases body metabolism, including stimulating the secretions of the intestinal tract and the liver, aiding digestion.

5. Repeated hot springs bathing (especially over three- to four-week period) can help normalize the functions of the endocrine glands as well as the functioning of the body’s autonomic nervous system.

6. Trace amounts of minerals such as carbon dioxide, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, and lithium are absorbed by the body and provide healing effects to various body organs and system. These healing effects can include stimulation of the immune system, leading to enhanced immunity; physical and mental relaxation; the production of endorphins; and normalized gland function.

7. Mineral springs contain high amounts of negative ions, which can help promote feelings of physical and psychological well-being.

8. The direct application of mineralized thermal waters (especially those containing sulfur) can have a therapeutic effect on diseases of the skin, including psoriasis, dermatitis, and fungal infections. Some mineral waters are also used to help the healing of wounds and other skin injuries.



Annie B. Bond: Balneotherapy: Healing with Water,