Considered power spots in nature, hot springs have been utilized by cultures worldwide for meetings, sacred gatherings, purification, and healing. Today, in our scientific era, controlled studies are validating the health benefits of hot-water therapy (called balneotherapy) for numerous medical conditions. And thanks to our location near the “supervolcano” that is Yellowstone National Park, we are blessed with over 60 hot springs in which to soak our bones. But the virtues of hot water depend on a few key factors.
1. Temperature. Balneotherapy is defined as “the use of baths containing thermal mineral waters from natural springs at a temperature of at least 68º F and with a mineral content of at least 1 g/L.” Some balneotherapists claim that for true therapeutic effects, though, the spring must be above 108ºF. Hyperthermia and cancer research is giving some credence to this number, as cancerous cells begin to die within the range of 108-111ºF while normal tissue is minimally damaged.
2. Mineral Concentration (Osmolality) and Form. This determines the water’s pH, as well as your skin’s ability to absorb the minerals and the resulting medicinal qualities. Common trace minerals found in hot pots are sulfur, chlorides, bicarbonates, lithium, magnesium, potassium, boron, iodine, and silica.
3. Mineral Type. Hot spring experts claim that the type of minerals found in a pool is perhaps the most influential component for health. Sulfur is known to help the liver, digestive tract, and skin conditions such as eczema. Bicarbonates supposedly increase circulation to the extremities by dilating peripheral blood vessels, and chlorides are best for rheumatic conditions such as osteo and rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and postoperative pain.
4. Time in the Water. Warmth causes increased circulation of blood and lymph leading to cell oxygenation and detoxification. Stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system (aka relaxation) alters hormonal and neurotransmitter ratios. Elevated body temperature acts like our own natural mechanism of fever, killing bacteria and viruses. Endorphins (substances in our body that act like morphine) increase, resulting in pain reduction. And hyperthermia raises the body’s metabolic rate, which over time can lead to weight reduction.
With all of the health benefits, it’s no surprise that hot springs have been a human pastime for centuries. Hot springs, however, are not for everyone. People who are pregnant, have extreme hypertension, heart disease, are at risk for hemorrhage, or have cancer should avoid balneotherapy unless under medical supervision.
Hot-spring frequenter Dr. Holcomb Johnston owns Sweetgrass Natural Medicine in downtown Bozeman.
Area Hot Springs
Bozeman Hot Springs. 586-6492; bozemanhotspring.com
Norris Hot Springs. 685-3303; norrishotsprings.com
Chico Hot Springs. 333-4933; chicohotsprings.com
Boiling River. Mammoth, YNP
Upper Potosi Hot Springs. Pony
Renova Hot Springs. Whitehall