Oh my aching bones!

floating in deadsea

Most people will  experience joint pain at some point in life.  Did you know that Dead Sea minerals may offer healing benefits for arthritis as well as many skin condtions?  These minerals have been used for their health benefits dating back to biblical times.

Although you may have to take a pretty long flight into Jordan or Israel to get to the Dead Sea, many of its health benefits can be obtained from your local spa, medical center as well as at cosmetic or health food stores.

Where is in the world is it?

The Dead Sea is located about 1378 feet below sea level, between the countries of Israel and Jordan. It has the highest salt content of any body of water, more than 10 times that of the average ocean. Because of its high salt content, the Dead Sea is particularly buoyant, having the ability to allow an adult to float effortlessly in its waters. It is also rich in other minerals including magnesium, bromide, calcium and potassium to name a few. An estimated 21 minerals exist in the dead sea; 12 of which are found in no other body of water in the world. There are a number of spas located around the Dead Sea, where visitors go for various treatments.

deadseamap

Health Benefits

The Dead Sea and Arthritis

Osteoarthritis  is one of the most common types of arthritis, typically affecting the hips, knees and back.  Its effects can be debilitating, and it can cause long term limitations in activity due to pain.  A comprehensive review study examined the effects of balneotherapy, the formal name for spa mineral baths, on pain caused by osteoarthritis.

Balneotherapy involves spa mineral baths at temperatures of 34 to 36 degrees Celcius (93 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit). The review showed that bathing with a Dead Sea mineral bath plus a sulfur bath (another type of bath from the mineral found in sulfur springs) allowed some relief of pain and improved functioning among  persons with osteoarthritis.  Other studies have shown improvements in symptoms from other types of arthritis (rheumatoid and psoriatic) with Dead Sea water baths, also usually in combination with sulfur baths.

The Dead Sea and Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic dermatologic condition that can cause itchy, silvery, flaky plaques on the skin and can have associated arthritis symptoms.  In a study of almost 1500 persons, Dead Sea balneotherapy in combination with phototherapy (light therapy) improved skin lesions in 88% of persons who participated in the study.  Another smaller study showed almost three quarters of people had skin clearing lasting for 1 to 3 months.  Certain types of psoriasis respond better to dead sea therapy combined with phototherapy than others, A type of psoriasis called guttate and another called chronic plaque type respond best.  A type called scalp and erythrodermic respond the least.  In a type that involves tiny pus filled lesions, called pustular psoriasis, Dead Sea water balneotherapy should be avoided as it can worsens symptoms.

How to Use It

In the studies highlighted, there was a wide variety in duration of therapy and exact temperature used. In addition the duration of results can vary. For example, one study of the effects of Dead Sea mineral therapy for psoriasis showed that a duration of treatment for one month resulted in just under 6 months of resolution of symptoms.

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Where to Get It

Dead Sea therapies can be expensive.   A number of spas near the Dead Sea in Israel and Jordan, as well as at other locations, offer Dead Sea treatments.  In the United States, some spas and medical centers also offer balneotherapy though not all offer Dead Sea salts as part of this treatment. (http://balneoana.org/about-balneology.html) Many of these treatments are expensive and may not always be covered by standard insurance plans.  Although there are many bottled products available at spas and health food stores, no studies have been done on these over the counter treatments.

Cautions

Bathing at the site of Dead Sea directly does involve sun exposure, which can have long-term risks to the health, including skin cancer and wrinkles. It is important to always exercise precaution and use sunscreen with direct sun exposure.  In addition, long term use of Dead Sea salts with ingestion can lead to bromide toxicity, characterized by weakness, fatigue and personality changes. In addition large ingestions of Dead Sea water can lead to other electrolyte problems, such as high levels of magnesium and calcium, which can cause the heart to have an abnormal rhythm.

deadsea_scene

The Short and Sweet

Dead sea minerals, in combination with other therapies, have been shown to be of benefit in the treatment of arthritis and psoriasis.  In particular Dead Sea mineral baths combined with sulfur baths showed some short-term improvement in symptoms for osteoarthritis.  Dead sea minerals plus light therapy provided short-term improvement for psoriasis.

Useful Websites

Dead Sea Research Center

http://www.deadsea-health.org/new_html/studies_main.html

Balneology Association of North America

http://balneoana.org/about-balneology.html

Research Resources

 Katz U. Shoenfeld Y. Zakin V. Sherer Y. Sukenik S. Scientific evidence of the therapeutic effects of the dead sea treatments: a systematic review. Seminars in Arthritis & Rheumatism. 42:186-200, 2012 Oct. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22503590

Matz H. Orion E. Wolf R. Balneotherapy in dermatology. Dermatologic Therapy. 16:132-40, 2003. http://www.sld.cu/galerias/pdf/sitios/rehabilitacion-bal/matzh_et_al.pdf

Riyaz N. Arakkal FR. Spa therapy in dermatology. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology & Leprology. 77:128-34, 2011 Mar-Apr. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21393940

Verhagen AP. Bierma-Zeinstra SM. Boers M.  et al. Balneotherapy for osteoarthritis.  Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. (4):CD006864, 2007. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17943920

 

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