Thalassotherapy includes the therapeutic use of seawater, and is a popular alternative treatment in Europe, especially in Germany and France. Some medical schools in Europe include thalassotherapy in their curricula.
Thalassotherapy can include a number of practices, such as:
- Bathing or swimming in sea water
- Apply marine products to the body, such as seaweed, mud or sand
- Spending time near the sea
- Take supplements that contain substances from the sea
Thalassotherapy is similar to balneotherapy, which consists of bathing in mineral water from springs. The difference between the two is that thalassotherapy uses sea water exclusively.
Supporters of this treatment claim that it is beneficial because of the substances that sea water contains. Sea water is rich in a number of minerals, such as:
Health benefits of thalassotherapy
Although research is limited, some studies suggest that thalassotherapy may have health benefits.
A 2020 study looked at the effect of hydrotherapy in a saltwater pool on 62 people who had had a stroke. Hydrotherapy consists of exercises in water. The experiment consisted of 45-minute sessions, 5 days a week for two weeks.
Analysis of the study results indicated that the combination of hydrotherapy and thalassotherapy performed in a Mediterranean climate can improve:
Certain aspects of quality of life.
Research older than 2005 evaluated the effects of a combination of thalassotherapy, exercise, and patient education in 58 people with fibromyalgia. The duration of the program was 2.5 weeks. Next, the authors evaluated the participants at 3, 6, and 12 months.
The results showed that the program produced temporary benefits between 3 and 6 months, but did not last beyond this period. The impacts included improvements in the following areas:
3 Mental health.
The 2005 study also looked at the effects of a combination therapy program on participants’ mental health. Although the program appeared to produce improvements in mental health, they were shorter-lived and less visible improvements in physical health.
4 skin diseases
Climatotherapy consists of temporary or permanent stabilization in a specific climate to improve health or treat disease. When a person moves to the coast, this is also an aspect of thalassotherapy.
A 2013 study explored the effects of Dead Sea climate therapy on psoriasis. It included 119 people with this condition, who completed quality-of-life questionnaires at different intervals during the study. The results indicate that proximity to the Dead Sea improves quality of life for people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
5 musculoskeletal disorders
A 2011 study evaluated the effects of a treatment program including exposure to sunlight, bathing in the Dead Sea, and bathing in mineral spring water for people with musculoskeletal disorders. The 60 participants suffered from various diseases, including low back pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. Analysis of the data showed that the program increased vitamin D levels, which helped reduce pain and disease severity. However, much of this may be due to sun exposure. More specific research on the effect of bathing in the sea is needed to determine whether thalassotherapy helps these diseases.
How does thalassotherapy work?
According to a 2019 study, thalassotherapy can benefit your health in many ways.
When a person’s skin comes into contact with seawater, sodium and chloride can enter the body. From there, it can affect skin cells by changing the pressure within them, which in turn can prevent cell death.
Air near the sea also tends to be cleaner than urban air and contains fewer common allergens. This may mean that people with asthma or hay fever can breathe easily through the ocean.
The review adds that a number of plant and animal substances from the sea have beneficial properties. For example, salmon oil and cod liver oil are sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Some thalassotherapy programs also include other health benefits, such as exercise and relaxation time. This may explain its popularity as an alternative treatment.
Supporters of thalassotherapy claim that sea air can be beneficial. It contains tiny droplets of seawater, which people inhale when they breathe. This may mean that they are ingesting small amounts of minerals in this way, but no research has investigated whether this is true or if it may affect health.
Thalassotherapy treatments vary by center:
Baths: Bathing in seawater is an essential component of thalassotherapy, and some treatments may also include bathing in waters containing seaweed or sea mud.
Bathing: Guests can also bathe in sea water or fresh water that contains marine minerals. Practitioners can use hydromassage with high pressure water jets to relax the muscles.
Skin care: Thalassotherapy centers may use a range of marine products in their treatments. For example, a Thalasso wrap consists of placing sea mud or seaweed on the body before wrapping the person in a warm blanket. Then the person washes off the mixture. Therapists may also use sea salt scrubs, clay masks, or other products.
Exercise: Many thalassotherapy programs also include exercises such as swimming. Aquatic exercises, such as water aerobics, can also be done.
Inhalation: Thalassotherapy spas can encourage residents to inhale steam from the sea water or breathe in the sea air around them.
Some experts consider seaweed supplements to be a form of thalassotherapy. Examples include kelp, chlorella, and spirulina supplements.
Does thalassotherapy have risks?
Thalassotherapy treatments at reputable centers are generally considered safe. Practitioners there are trained to determine which treatments are safe for the individual.
However, there are still some risks.
Bathing in hot sea water can affect the body in other ways. Long, hot showers can cause low blood pressure, fainting, or fatigue. Spending too much time in the sun can also cause a sunburn if a person does not protect their skin.
Here are some similar treatments to thalassotherapy:
Balneotherapy: includes bathing in hot spring water, either directly in the spring itself, or in a spa using mineral water of natural origin. This treatment can help deal with issues with stress and mild inflammation.
Hydrotherapy: It consists of immersing part or all of the body in hot or cold water. It may include the use of equipment, such as a sitz bath or whirlpool. Hot water relaxes muscles and reduces arthritis pain, while cold water stimulates circulation.
Joutherapy: is the use of seaweed or seaweed in baths, body wraps or facials to enhance well-being.
Halothermy: This method involves breathing in salty air from a room filled with mineral-rich salt. Although it may help people with asthma and COPD breathe easier, there is no evidence yet to support its use as a medical treatment.
Thalassotherapy is the use of sea water and marine substances for health. Some believe its benefits come from the sea’s abundant mineral content, such as sodium, chloride, and iodine. These substances can be absorbed through the skin, but little research has been done on whether this can help improve health. Thalassotherapy treatments may include baths, swimming, hydromassage, or water exercises. Spending time near the sea, where the air is generally cleaner than in cities, can also benefit some people.
It is recommended that you consult your doctor before trying thalassotherapy or taking nutritional supplements of marine origin.
Galvez, I, et al. (2018). Spa therapy, the immune system, and stress response: a hormonal strategy?
Harari, M, et al. (2011). Increased serum vitamin D levels are associated with clinical improvement of rheumatic diseases after Dead Sea Climatotherapy [Abstract].
Coble, E, et al. (2013). Effect of Dead Sea Climatotherapy for Psoriasis on Quality of Life [Abstract].
Maurer, C., et al. (2020). Evaluation of the feasibility of a two-week course of hydrotherapy and thalassotherapy in a mild post-stroke group.
Nagaish, Yu (2016). Hydrotherapy: a tool for disease prevention.
Zigelstra, TR, et al. (2005). Spa treatment for primary fibromyalgia syndrome: A combination of thalassotherapy, exercise, and patient education improves symptoms and quality of life.
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