What is Thalassotherapy?
Thalassotherapy has its name derived from Thalassa, a Greek word meaning sea or ocean. In this therapy, seawater, spa therapy, and salty ocean climate is used for overall health and wellbeing. Thalassotherapy is a very common alternative therapy, particularly in Germany and France.
Thalassotherapy involves a number of practices, such as:
- Bathing or swimming in seawater
- Applying marine products such as seaweeds, sand, and mud
- Spending time near the sea
- Taking supplements
It is similar to balneotherapy which involves bathing in mineral and spring water. The difference is just that thalassotherapy uses only seawater. Seawater is rich in minerals such as sodium, magnesium, chloride, calcium, iodine, and potassium, all of which are necessary for good health.(1)
Health Benefits of Thalassotherapy
There are a few studies that suggest that thalassotherapy may help benefit in a few conditions.
In 2020 a study was conducted to investigate the effect of aquatic therapy on 62 people who had experienced a stroke. The study was done in a seawater pool and involved water exercise, 45 minutes sessions on 5 days for 2 weeks. It was observed that a combination of aquatic therapy and thalassotherapy improved pain, balance, mobility, and quality of life.(2)
Older research done in 2005 evaluated the effect of thalassotherapy, exercise, and patient education in 58 people with fibromyalgia. The duration of the program was 2.5 weeks and afterward, the participants were observed for 3, 6, and 12 months.(3)
The result showed that the program produced temporary benefits that did not last beyond 3-6 months. The improvement was observed in pain, tiredness, general health, and physical functioning.
In 2005, a study was done to examine the effects of combination therapy programs on mental health. Mental health improvements were observed but were seen to be of shorter duration and less pronounced than physical health improvements.(3)
Climatotherapy is a treatment that involves a person relocating to a certain climate to improve health or get treated for a condition. When someone moves to the coast, it is a part of thalassotherapy.
A study done in 2013 explored the effects of Dead Sea climatotherapy on psoriasis.(4) People with this condition were asked to complete the quality-of-life questionnaire. The findings suggested that being near the Dead Sea enhanced the quality of life in people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
In 2011, the research assessed the effect of treatment programs involving sun exposure, bathing in the Dead Sea, and bathing in mineral water in people with musculoskeletal conditions.(5) 60 people who participated have a variety of conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, lower back pain and osteoarthritis. This program was observed to increase the vitamin D level which was linked with reduced pain and severity.
How Does Thalassotherapy Work?
Thalassotherapy may benefit health in a number of ways. When the skin comes in contact with seawater, sodium, and chloride enter the body and affect the skin cells by altering the pressure inside them. This may inhibit cell death.
Also, air near the sea tends to be cleaner than air in the cities. This can help people with asthma or hay fever as they may breathe in pure air by the ocean.
There are numerous plants and animal substances by the sea that have beneficial properties. For example, salmon and cod liver oil are known to be rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
There are other thalassotherapy programs such as exercise and time for relaxation that may benefit health.
Some proponents of thalassotherapy claim seawater can be beneficial as they contain tiny droplets with a small number of minerals. But there is no research that investigates whether it is true or not.
Treatment Involved in Thalassotherapy
The treatments involved in thalassotherapy are:
- Bathing: This is a key component of thalassotherapy and involves bathing in seawater. Some treatments involve bathing in water containing seaweeds or sea mud.
- Showering: People in the thalassotherapy spa would shower in seawater or freshwater that contains minerals from the sea. Hydromassage from high-pressure jets is also used by practitioners to soothe muscles.
- Skin Treatments: A range of marine products are used in thalassotherapy treatments. This involves thalasso wraps, salt scrubs, mud masks, and others.
- Exercise: Thalassotherapy programs may include exercises such as swimming, aquatic exercise, and water aerobics.
- Inhalation: This involves encouraging residents to inhale steam from seawater or take in sea air around them.
Risks of Thalassotherapy
Thalassotherapy treatments are mostly safe especially if someone is at reputable spas. There are practitioners that may identify treatment as safe for someone.
However, there are also a few risks involved, which include:
- Bathing in open seawater can pose a risk of getting caught in strong tides or drowning.
- Bathing in hot seawater can affect the body in many other ways. A long hot water bath can lead to low blood pressure, faintness, and tiredness.
- Many marine-derived supplements can also have risks if they are not tested for safety by the food and drug association.
It is always good to consult a doctor before going ahead with any kind of therapy, even if it is a therapy involving natural things.