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Roger Weller, geology instructor
by Jake Max
The Wondrous Benefits of Hot Springs
Who would not enjoy a nice, relaxing day at a hot spring to soak those aches
away and alleviate the stresses of the day? The answer, surprisingly, is a lot
of people. Some people think the water will cause third degree burns or lava
will spew forth and kill them while they are bathing in the waters.
Fortunately, this is far from reality. Indeed, natural hot springs offer a wide
range of benefits and therapy’s. When in their natural state, they provide
great aesthetic beauty and also
provide science with a rare view into the life of early microbial life forms.
Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone.
Balneotherapy (from Latin: balneum, "bath") is the treatment of disease by bathing, usually practiced at spas. The benefit of bathing in natural hot springs is that high temperature water contains more dissolved solid minerals. Because of this, many mineral water spas are rich in particular minerals such as silica, sulfur, selenium, calcium, lithium, and radium which can be absorbed through the skin. In addition, certain hot springs provide the materials to produce high quality medicinal clays that are widely used to treat muscle aches or joint pains, clear up skin ailments, and detoxify the body. The practice of using special clays is known as "fangotherapy."
Sulfur is a mineral naturally occurring near hot springs and volcanic craters. The "rotten egg" smell of sulfur mineral baths is caused by sulfur dioxide gas escaping into the air. Sulfur has been used medicinally since ancient times, and it is contained in every cell in the body. It is comprised of three different amino acids (the building blocks that make up protein). Approximately 0.25 percent of your total body weight is sulfur. It is most concentrated in keratin, which gives you strong hair, nails, and skin. It is known as "nature's beauty mineral" because your body needs it to manufacture collagen, which keeps your skin elastic and young-looking.
Developed Natural Hot Springs
While these amazing creations have been around for eons, hot springs have only
been a source of revenue for roughly one hundred years. Many states in the US
have areas containing hot springs to include New Mexico, Colorado, California,
and even Alaska. Entrepreneurs purchase land plots and develop the areas into
resorts. Cement pools are built to contain the water and the surroundings are
nicely landscaped. Multitudes flock to spas hoping to enjoy the numerous health
benefits without worrying about the water being too hot or unsafe. Commercial
and private hot springs are found throughout the world.
Faywood Hot Springs New Mexico. Google images
For instance, Wilbur Hot Springs is located in California. Their website,
wilburhotsprings.com presents several anonymous testimonies from visitors who
have had their lives changed as a result of using the natural hot springs at
Wilbur. For instance, one individual states, “I wanted to let you know the
miracle of Wilbur water. Of course, I'm sure you already know, but you don't
know about my experience!, I've been in so much pain due to RA (rheumatoid
arthritis) that it's been difficult to walk, cook, dress -- well, LIVE! I hadn't
been to Wilbur in a couple of years, I think, so it was heaven to finally get
back there. My companion and I stayed two glorious nights. The tubs were the
perfect temperature on the second day, and I was able to relax by floating in
the cool tub for hours on end. Just defying gravity is a wondrous experience for
these painful, swollen, deformed joints of mine. I was so very surprised that on
that second day there, I was able to walk down the stairs just like a
temporarily abled person!!”. Another exclaims, “I have visited Wilbur Hot
Springs many times, and I believe that the water has a good healing power. After
I soak in the pool, I will fall asleep easily. Then, I wake up, and soak in the
pool again, then sleep again. After I repeat the cycle a few times, I will feel
energetic, and can sleep only a few hours per
I'm back home."
Hot springs in Turkey. Google images
Dangers and Fears of Natural Hot Springs
In general, when you ask people about hot springs and mineral springs, most
respond that they are worried about the water burning them alive or the lava
bursting from the ground or poisonous gases killing them. In actuality, natural
hot springs do not have any lava and are instead heated by the hot rocks in the
Earth’s mantle. According to Ward Cameron, “A mineral spring is defined as one
that contains a reading of 400 parts/million of total dissolved solids. In the
case of the thermal springs in the Rockies, their formation tends to be quite
consistent. As rain falls on the surrounding peaks, it percolated into the
rather porous sedimentary rocks. As it descends through the rock, it picks up a
variety of materials, everything from radium to sulphur. Also, as it moves
further beneath the surface, it heats up from the primal heat of the Earth.
Eventually, it encounters a large thrust fault, or crack. As water descends
behind it, it forces the now heated water to ascend along the fault-line to
surface as a hot or warm spring. Also critical in the creation of a hot spring,
is an express route to the surface. If the water moves slowly from depth to the
surface, it will cool back down before it bubbles out as a spring. Luckily,
since many of these springs occur in limestone formations, the openings allowing
the water to the surface may be enlarged by dissolving of the limestone to
create a virtual pipeline to the surface. This assures a quick trip and warm
Hot spring in Yellowstone.
Dangerous organisms living in the waters, is another concern. Thermophiles are
bacterial organisms that thrive at high temperatures (113 to 225 F). Several of
these are infectious to humans but the vast majority are not. Many thermophiles
are archaea, Thermophilic eubacteria are suggested to have been among the
earliest bacteria. One of the safety precautions taken at the spas and
enforced in the United States is a series of tests performed by entry the EPA
and National Parks Service before humans are allowed entry. Another thing that
most people do not realize is that hot springs support an abundance of life even
long before they reach the surface. For example the sulfur smell is caused by
anaerobic bacteria living deep beneath the Earth’s crust. Hydrogen sulphide has
a very strong and unpleasant smell, like rotten eggs, caused by sulfur dioxide
gas escaping into the air. It is extremely toxic. Inhaling low concentrations
can cause headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and irritation of the eyes and upper
respiratory tract. It can also aggravate sinus and respiratory systems and
contribute to bronchitis.
other hand, this naturally occurring mineral found near hot springs and
volcanic craters possesses many positive attributes.
Benefits of Sulfur
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, as a supplement, sulfur is available in two forms: dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). DMSO and MSM are purported to be great pain relievers. Natural sources of MSM are plants, fruits and vegetables, some grains, and milk. This compound form connective tissue such as cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. Evidence indicates it may inhibit the nerve impulses that transmit pain signals, thus reducing pain. While MSM must be ingested, DMSO is absorbed through the skin. Therefore, it is generally found in creams for aches and pains.
containing sulfur, can help treat skin disorders and arthritis. Some people
claim these baths are useful for allergies and respiratory problems. People also
apply sulfur products to the skin to treat acne and other skin disorders.
Studies show that people who took sulfur baths and other spa therapies improved
strength, had less morning stiffness, had better walking ability, and less
inflammation, swelling, and pain in joints, particularly in the neck and back.
Cave and Basin Natural Hot Springs, Alberta | Flickr
Hot Springs are natural phenomena found on all continents and most countries around the world. Throughout the centuries, people have enjoyed these natural wonders for their scenic beauty, scientific value and mysterious natural healing powers. The rich colors of these formations draw people to simply admire their natural beauty. Scientists are attracted to these sites so they may investigate early bacterial life forms detected in the pools. Many sufferers of such ailments as psoriasis, eczema, dandruff, warts, arthritis, shingles and muscle aches are willing to disregard any potential dangers or ignore their fears to reap the benefits of the warm, therapeutic waters. These people are also willing to pay the price at private and commercial resorts. Although there are some potential risks associated with hot springs, the numerous benefits offset these concerns.
Cameron, Ward. MountainNature.com. http://www.mountainnature.com/geology/HotSprings.htm
University of the West Indies. http://www.uwiseismic.com/General.aspx?id=77
University of Maryland Medical Center. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/sulfur
Wilbur hot springs. http://www.wilburhotsprings.com/healing-waters-stories.htm