“Water is one part oxygen and two parts hydrogen, the rest is magic” –C.S. Lewis
Ah yes, the bath. The act of setting the stage for a nice long evening soak. Filling the tub with water at just the right temperature. Retreating to the sanctuary of your bathroom where no one will disturb you for at least 20 minutes. Perhaps lighting a candle, dimming the lights and getting in the tub. There are many well-known physiologic reactions of the body to immersion in warm water and psychological effects as well.
The simple act of soaking in warm water has been studied by hydrotherapy physicians throughout the ages. In fact, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, stressed the value of using various types of baths with different temperatures as a therapeutic tool to treat illnesses.
If you think about it, the skin is considered the largest organ in the body. It covers 22 square feet in area and has the ability to absorb nutrients from its environment. Certain substances can directly enter systemic circulation through the skin. These include oxygen, carbon dioxide, vitamins, plant resins, and salts.
Temperature equilibrium is one of the most important cutaneous functions of the skin. When the body is exposed to warm temperatures, the muscular structures of the skin relax and cutaneous vessels fill up with blood by vasodilation. This provides a shift of the blood volume from the core of the body to the cutaneous structures and aids in circulation. The pores of the skin dilate and with the improved blood supply to the excretory structures of the skin the premise for “detoxification” in the tub is explained.
There are many bath products out on the market today and I have practically tried them all. In my opinion, the quantity of the bath additive is simply too small to have any physiologic effect on the body. Adding a capful or a tablespoon of sea salt or dropping a small tablet of sodium bicarbonate into the bathwater may contribute to the experience but serves very little to the physiologic environment created in the water. The body is a complex system of chemical structures and a true therapeutic bath must address this issue.
On the other hand, the psychological effects of the bath can be quite significant. These include a study on the mental changes caused by sea salt bath therapy. It showed positive psychological effects such as peace of mind, vibrant life, increased energy level, stability and self control, regain of self confidence, better introspection, and improvement of response behavior against stress. There was also noted improvement in the quality of sleep.
I have benefited greatly from my fair share of evening soaks and have restored my own sense of balance and inner peace through bath therapy. My hope is that others can benefit from these simple techniques and find relief from physical pain or mental stress with the healing power of the therapeutic bath.
Carolyn L. Bessette, M.D.