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Special Report on Mineral Waters (1902)

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Part I--General Discussion of Mineral Waters, continued

Chapter II--The Use of Mineral Waters


From the earliest ages mineral and thermal baths have been considered of great importance in the maintenance of health and the cure of disease. Bathing was considered a sacred rite by the Egyptians, and the "washing in Jordan" and other streams, and in "pools" or springs, was made a religious duty by the Israelites. Their ceremonials included elaborate washing of the body and of various vessels. There was a celebrated bathing place near the Dead Sea which was a favorite resort of Herod.

The Greeks built the temples of Esculapius near some famous springs, and the Athenians took their summer "outing" at the sulfur baths of their "Saratoga," the island of Euboea. The very name Thermopylae recalls by its etymology the warm baths of this locality.

It is probable that there never was a nation that carried to such a degree the luxury and magnificence of bathing establishments as did the Romans. Their "thermae," as they were called, were built from the time of Agrippa, B. C. 21, to that of Diocletian, A. D. 302. Wherever Roman supremacy was established there the warm springs were developed, or bathing resorts were created, without sparing of expense for conveniences and artistic embellishment. The hot springs establishment at Baiae, near Naples, where the wealthy Romans congregated for health and pleasure, was a marvel of beauty and elegance. It is interesting to find still the remains of this period of Roman grandeur and wealth in distant lands, as in Bath, England; in Bagneres de Luchon, in the Pyrenees, in Aix, in Provence, in Paris, and Wiesbaden. After the Roman aqueducts were cut by the advancing hordes from the north, the great bathing resorts were, many of them, allowed to fall into decay, and now their remains only are left to point to those days of luxury.

Early medical writers, as Hippocrates, Asclepiades, Celsus, and Galen, describe methods of treating disease by the external and internal use of water, and some of their methods are in use to-day. Vapor baths, especially for medicinal purposes, have been in favor among the people of Turkey, Russia, Ireland, Scotland, Japan, and Mexico. At the present time, in many of our popular resorts, the external use of water, under the advice of a physician, is considered as important as its internal use. Some waters, of course, are much better adapted to external use than for drinking. The invigorating effect of sea bathing has been recognized from the earliest times. For hundreds of years the noted bathing localities of England, France and Germany have been the center of the social life of Europe at certain seasons. In our own country. the waters of Saratoga, White Sulfur, Rockbridge alum, Bedford, Cresson, Hot Springs of Arkansas, California, and hundreds of other places, annually attract those who hope for renewed health from the use of those waters in agreeable surroundings and under medical advice.

External Use of Water

The effect of a bath depends on the temperature of the water (Watering-places of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, Edward Gutmann). If the latter is high, say about 102° to 110°, the temperature of the body is increased about 3°; if the temperature of the bath is as low as 66°, it reduces the temperature of the body about 2° within ten or fifteen minutes. A temperature of 88° to 95° is considered indifferent, as it does not change the temperature of the system, and can be indulged in for a considerable time without any harm.

The cold bath reduces the frequency of the pulse, produces contraction of the capillary vessels of the skin, which becomes cool and pale, and a flow of the blood to the internal organs, viz., to the brain, lungs, kidneys, etc. But as reaction takes place, after a short while the skin becomes red, and the pulse normal, or even more frequent than before. The symptoms produced by the rush of blood to the internal organs, resulting from the action of the cool water, are these: Dizziness in the head, tremor of the limbs, oppression of the chest, and a small pulse.

Hot baths accelerate the circulation of the blood, produce a rush of blood to the surface of the skin, and an expansion of the whole quantity of blood contained in the blood-vessels, thereby causing congestions and profuse perspiration. Diseases occasioned by suppressed perspiration and morbid organizations are benefited by these baths. The stimulative effect produced by the high temperature of the hot water often proves very beneficial in cases of paralysis. The high temperature is probably the sole efficacious element of the mud, peat and sand baths which are so much patronized on the continent, both by physicians and patients, although the heavy weight of these substances may also contribute a good deal to their beneficial action in some affections, as enlargement of the liver, thickening of joints, etc.

Indifferent baths, which have a temperature of 88° to 95° F., do not have any material physiological effect on the circulation of the blood or on the nervous system; but the experience of many years has proved them highly beneficial in cases of nervous irritability, neuralgia, sleeplessness, hysterical spasms, etc.

Very young persons, and old ones, not being strong enough to bring on a speedy reaction, should not take cold baths; nor should decrepit persons, or invalids affected with severe disorders of the digestive organs or a high degree of nervous irritability submit to a cold-water treatment. Diseases of the heart, congestions and hemorrhages of the lungs, apoplectic dispositions, are also contra-indications to the use of cold water.

Water charged with carbonic acid produces a very pleasant prickling or burning sensation on the surface of the skin, a flow of blood to the latter, and redness and fulness of the pulse; therefore, it seems that this gas, when used externally, acts as a stimulant on the skin. Some salts, as chlorid of sodium, chlorid of calcium, contained in many mineral waters, also produce a stimulating effect on the peripheral nerves. The stimulative action of the carbonic acid is quicker, but that of the salts lasts longer; these, after having penetrated the epidermis, seem to remain longer in the skin, and thereby to produce the stimulation of the nerves.

Alkaline waters have no more effect on the system than common water baths, their salts not being absorbed by the skin; they mollify the epidermis, thereby enabling us to remove impurities that accumulate on the skin, and they prevent the pores from being obstructed by the secretions of the sebaceous and sweat glands.

The general effects of strong mineral-water baths may thus be summed up: They increase the circulation of the blood in the skin, promote its nutrition, augment the secretions, and often produce eruptions on the skin.

Internal Use of Water

Early Opinions

There was very much of mysticism and ignorance connected with mineral waters in ancient times. A river in Phrygia was believed to produce a certain kind of delirium in those who used it. Some waters whitened the hair of animals; others turned the wool of sheep black. Some waters, the people thought, caused loss of memory; others strengthened and sweetened the human voice. Waters there were that intoxicated the drinker, while others destroyed the taste for wine. Wine itself was said to flow from a certain spring, while a well in Asia Minor yielded water which burned. This latter was no doubt due to natural gas or petroleum which came from the well. It was thought that water after boiling was colder than unboiled water, and rain water was continually being poisoned from the vapors that came from the earth. Pliny held that water was more wholesome after boiling, which we know to be true now, for the lime, if present, would be precipitated by boiling and organic germs would be destroyed. He taught better than he knew.

Use of Waters at Home

Says a prominent author (Watering-places of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, Edward Gutmann):
"Natural mineral waters, securely bottled, being nowadays exported to all parts of the globe, many believe them to be fully as efficient when taken at the patient's residence as when drunk at the spring. This I believe to be a mistake. A regular strict treatment, as it is enforced by the physicians of a well-regulated watering-place, cannot be carried on at home. Business, family, old habits of living, and, more often, divers irregularities of living, prevent the patient from adhering strictly to the rules prescribed for the use of the waters; he would not rise early in the morning for the sake of drinking a few glasses of water; afraid of neglecting his business, he would not spend several hours of the day for necessary exercise; nor would he wish to have the diet of the whole family changed on his account, because the usual diet does not, agree with the mineral water, and so on. Moreover, there are waters whose efficacy mainly depends on their natural high temperature. It would hardly be possible for the patient, however careful, to raise the heat of the bottled water every morning to exactly the same degree."

Action of Waters upon the System

(Watering-places of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, Edward Gutmann.) If you drink a large quantity of water which is not instantly absorbed, you feel oppressed as by a heavy weight. But absorption generally commences as soon as the water is taken, and, if the stomach is empty, goes on very rapidly. The water is absorbed by the veins of the stomach and the intestines, but more by those of the former; the secretion of the saliva, bile and urine is increased. The maximum of the absorption is reached about two or three hours after the water has been drunk, excretion by the kidneys being most abundant at that time. Water containing salts is not so rapidly absorbed as common water; the less salt it contains the more easily it is absorbed. The quantity of water which the stomach is able to receive and absorb is immense; persons are reported to have swallowed 200 and even 300 ounces of mineral water every morning for several weeks. The quantity of water in the blood varies according to the amount of water drunk and absorbed. A large quantity produces an expansion of the blood-vessels and an increase in the secretions of the skin, of the intestinal canal, and especially of the kidneys, which carry off the largest portion of the water. Much water-drinking diminishes the specific gravity of the urine, makes it thinner, and increases the quantity of the urine. The perspiration is also thereby increased, but this increase varies much, according to the temperature of the water and the air, and the active exercise of the person. Water, if properly administered, augments all the secretions of the system, and facilitates the change of tissue and the renovation of the body. Water of a high temperature is more easily absorbed, and is more efficacious than water of the usual cool temperature. Too much water-drinking impedes the digestion, disturbes the secretions, and often produces dropsy.

Water taken in large quantity expands the stomach, the intestines, the blood-vessels, the biliary passages, and the bladder; it liquifies the contents of the intestinal canal, and thereby promotes the evacuation; it facilitates the circulation of the blood in the smaller vessels of the liver, lungs, and spleen, thereby preventing or relieving congestions of these organs. The expansion of the biliary passages and the bladder by water greatly facilitates the passage of gall-stones and gravel.

Cold water is a stimulant, and as such highly beneficial in the treatment of atony of the stomach and the intestines, and of defective digestion caused thereby. It also diminishes the irritability of these organs.

Warm water is used with great benefit in many painful affections of the stomach and the intestinal canal. It fluidizes its contents more thoroughly than cold water, augments the secretions, and promotes the absorption of morbid deposits.

If mineral waters are drunk, the larger portion of them is also absorbed by the stomach. Especially are the gases which they contain rapidly carried into the blood, while the absorption of the mineral constituents is somewhat retarded. High temperature of the water and active exercise favor the absorption. Another portion of the mineral water passes through the alimentary canal, where it is partly absorbed, the rest being eliminated by the action of the bowels.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geology
Placed on web April 7, 2017; originally published 1902.
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