Mud: Dig It!
As you may know, the word
spa is the acronym for salus per aqua, Latin meaning "good
health through water." But did you know that all of that good
water also produces great mud? • Mud is one of the healthiest
components of spa therapies, when it comes from the correct source
and is used appropriately. In fact, mud is the cornerstone of many
spa therapies. What’s more, there are a variety of types of
mud, each notable for its own specific qualities. Let’s dig
into mud, from a historical perspective to its 21st -century presence.
• Spas have been around for hundreds of years. One of the
oldest, Karlovy Vary in Karlsbad, Czechoslovakia, was founded in
1338. Karlovy Vary’s grounds boast 132 springs that have flowed
nearly 15 million years and vary in temperature from 95-160 degrees
Fahrenheit. Beethoven and Napoleon are just two among scores of
sheiks, maharajas and European rulers who have enjoyed the therapeutic
waters and mud in this area.
"Our mud is high in mineral
salts, CO2, argonite, calcite and trace iron deposits," said
Mila Syznovich, spokesperson for Karlovy Vary. "This area is
a river valley formed by granite tectonic blocks, which created
a rift valley. Subsequent basalt lava flows and argonite mineralizations
are also present. The thermal water infects the earth surrounding
it, lending the mud curative properties."
Interestingly, mud has a different
curative effect from each spring, varying from digestive healing
agents to vascular and metabolic aids.
Weil, M.D., a proponent of complementary health care, acknowledges
that mud seems to have something going for it. Research on the therapeutic
properties of mud has been much more intense in Europe and Russia
than in the United States, so Weil is cautious about endorsing mud
Weil said that based on the
application of thermal mud promotes long-lasting beneficial effects
for people with dry and seborrheic (flaking) skin. In 1999 another
Italian study reported that the combination of mudpacks and antidepressants
helped fibromyalgia patients both physiologically and psychologically.
"In Israel, medical researchers
at Ben-Gurion University found that rheumatoid arthritis patients
who were treated with daily mud packs, daily hot sulfur baths, and
a combination of the two, improved significantly compared to those
who didn’t receive any of these treatments."
Weil also raises some cautionary
issues, such as sanitation, indicating that single-use baths that
are completely sanitized and then replenished might be safer than
group-shared thermal facilities.
"I once took a mud bath
at a spa in Calistoga, California, and noticed that quite a number
of people got in and out of the mud before it was changed. You could
pick up a skin disease this way," said Weil. "Some of
the bugs responsible, such as pseudomonas, survive in high temperatures."
Muds used in spa therapies
are found throughout the world. Each mud has a different content
based on the geologic area from which it originated. Several governments,
including those in Italy and Israel, have actually conducted in-depth
studies as to the effectiveness of the mud found in their countries.
Dead Sea Mud
Just 16 miles east of Jerusalem lies the Dead Sea, with its healing
water, salts and mud. More than 1,300 feet below sea level and with
water 10 times saltier than that of the ocean, the Dead Sea is the
lowest point on earth and the most saline of all natural lakes.
The setting of the Dead Sea is unique not only in the waterbed itself,
but also the atmosphere above it. The atmospheric pressure is so
high around the Dead Sea that the sun’s harmful UV rays are
filtered out. There is more oxygen in the Dead Sea area than at
sea level. The waters are so salty that they contain absolutely
no life. The Dead Sea is so dense that individuals buoy to its surface.
In fact, every liter of water from the Dead Sea contains 320 grams
of salts and minerals.
According to Imar Levy, an
American dermatologist practicing in Chicago, there are several
beneficial elements to Dead Sea mud: magnesium, which is known for
its healing properties and soothing influence on the skin; bromide,
which is soothing, relaxing and has a tranquilizing effect on the
nervous system; iodine, which is important for the correct functioning
of the thyroid gland and a key factor in the body’s metabolic
exchanges; sulfur, which is a natural disinfectant and a great remedy
for acneic conditions; and potassium A, for moisturizing and emulsion.
Levy tested a Dead Sea mud
mask on 30 women of different age groups and varying skin tones.
He found that the facial mud mask both cleanses and moisturizes
"The clay’s drawing
qualities reach deep into the pores, thoroughly cleansing and removing
grime, which impedes the nourishing process," Levy said. "Through
reverse osmosis, minerals from the mud nourish the skin and restore
its vitality. The mineral action also works to tighten the pores."
When coupled with massage,
a Dead Sea body treatment can help speed lymphatic drainage, thereby
ridding the body of toxins, according to a study initiated by the
Israeli government and conducted by Levy.
At the Dead Sea Medical Center,
patients from all over the world come for treatments and relaxation.
A combination of mineralized water; black mud, highly oxygenated
air and filtered sun make for a curative combination of therapeutic
choices. Among the skin disorders seen at the clinic, the most common
are psoriasis, vitiligo, ichthyosis, acne, eczema and arthritis.
Without committing to thousands
of miles of travel and the expense of staying at a five-star resort,
Dead Sea mud is widely available throughout North America for home
and professional use, from a variety of companies.
Fango is an unglamorous grayish-brown slime. It is made up of a
solid, clay-like component, thermal water and an algae-based flurry.
Fango is organic and undergoes a maturation process before being
considered therapeutic. Fango can be used on clients, and it must
be in direct contact with thermal water, sunlight and air during
the maturation process, according to Reinhard Bergel, Ph.D., and
a physical therapist who practices in Calistoga, California. This
permits the fango’s enrichment by mineral salts and the growth
of a particular form of algae at its surface. This strain of alginate
thrives in environments that offer very high temperatures with a
rich mineral content. Two actions are produced in a cycle of fango
therapy. Therapeutically, a local anti-inflammatory, analgesic effect
occurs in a localized area. Secondly, increased resistances to pathogenic
agents occur in the area being treated.
"When the fango has sufficiently
matured, its efficacy is strengthened by its ability to give off
heat, which leads to perspiration from the client," said Bergel.
"Circulation is increased, as is stimulation and elimination
of toxic substances in the body."
Based on a 1999 study by Bergel
on the biology and physics of peloid fango - a by-product of mineral
water, he concluded that the substances contained in fango actually
affect the coetaneous nerve endings. In turn, they facilitate a
release of hormonal substances by the endocrine glands, said