Spa Therapy

Uggghhh! Monday morning after a long holiday weekend. Not quite feeling the whole work thing today? Feeling guilty about those Thanksgiving pounds you packed on over the 4-day eating orgy?

Maybe what you need is a spa break! In case, you’re not yet in agreement – here’s another reason to consider swapping your business suit for a bathing suit.  According to a pilot study from the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine a weeks retreat at a spa is not only relaxing and nourishing, but can lead to marked changes in physical and emotional well-being.

The research evaluated 15 participants before and after their visit to a health and wellness spa in Desert Hot Springs, California.  The week-long program included meditation and colonic hydrotherapy, hatha and Vishnu flow-yoga programs, and a very low calorie diet of approximately 800 calories per day. Stress management was provided through daily structured meditation and personal meditation encouraging deep breathing, heightened awareness and a calming effect.

In preparation, participants were asked to modify their diet three to four days prior to arrival by replacing a normal diet with fruit, sprouts, raw and steamed vegetables, salads, vegetables, herbal teas, prune juice in the morning, laxative teas or herbal laxatives nightly and avoiding pasta, meat, cheese, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods.

The participants, 13 women and two men between the ages of 21 and 85, with no history of significant medical, neurological or psychological conditions each underwent a physical evaluation including weight, height, Body Mass Index (BMI), blood pressure and an EKG. They also received a complete blood count (CBC), liver function tests, tests measuring cholesterol and triglycerides, thyroid hormone testing, and the concentration of metals such as mercury and lead. In addition, psychological and spiritual measures before and after their arrival were measured.

An evaluation of the results showed that undergoing a spa program resulted in a weight decline of an average of 6.8 lbs., a 7.7% decrease in diastolic blood pressure as well as a decrease in mercury, sodium and chloride levels and a 5.2% decline in cholesterol level and mean BMI. Hemoglobin increased 5.9 percent. No statistically significant changes in liver or thyroid function and no EKG changes were noted.

No serious adverse effects were reported by any individual, but the study noted changes in the participants’ sodium and chloride concentrations, suggesting that those interested in going to a spa program should check with their physician to make sure they do not have any medical problems or medications that could put them at risk for electrolyte disturbances.

Improvements in anger, tension, vigor, fatigue and confusion were also noted as was a statistically significant improvement in anxiety and depression levels measured by the Speilberger Anxiety Scale and the Beck Depression Index.

Participants also reported significant changes in their feelings about spirituality and religiosity.

Programs such as these have never before been formally evaluated for their safety and physiological effects,” says Andrew Newberg, MD,  lead author on the study.

While beneficial, it is not possible to differentiate the effects of each of the individual elements of the program to determine which components were responsible for the changes observed. “This,” says Newberg “will require an evaluation of one or more elements—such as yoga, very low calorie diet or colonics—in isolation to determine which elements have the most significant effects.”

In the future, Newberg and colleagues plan to study the effects of a spa stay on specific disease population, i.e. diabetics.

Complete findings will be available in the December issue of Integrative Medicine, A Clinician’s Journal.

In the meantime, it’s back to our desks. We can but daydream of downward dogs and diets!