Mud baths may seem like some exotic spa treatment thought up by the elite, but they are actually an ancient practice. Today, many people worldwide still use mud-bathing, called pelotherapy, as a therapeutic, cosmetic, and medicinal remedy. Research and studies have found many beneficial uses for this rapidly-renewable substance in the form of baths, wraps, and other treatments.
Mud Use Through the Ages
As children, we splashed in puddles and made mud pies. At some point, a sports coach may have told you to “rub some dirt on it” when you got hurt. It seems that humans are naturally drawn to mud.
For centuries, people around the world have used mud as a medicinal and beauty remedy. Mud acts as a natural exfoliator and means to draw toxins out of the body, to increase blood flow to certain areas of the body, and to relax muscles.
Mesopotamians used clay to treat wounds as far back as 2500 BCE, and Cleopatra is said to have used Dead Sea mud wraps. The Wappo tribe of Northern California has used volcanic mud to treat bug stings and sunburns. Even the Bible includes a story of Jesus healing a blind man’s eyes with mud.
Not All Muds Are The Same
While it is easy to write off mud treatments as nonsense, there is real science behind the practice. Mud isn’t just mud. Muds used for beauty or health treatments are typically peloids, or natural muds. These are not just dirt and water mixed together. They consist of minerals, organic matter, gases, clay, and microorganisms.
This complex soup of ingredients is unique to how the mud is made and where it was made. There are three main types of peloids:
Sapropelic muds are formed in saltwater and are rich in colloidal iron hydrosulfide.
Mineral and vegeto-mineral muds are found by springs.
Peat muds are found in swamps and are created by the decomposition of plants.
Dead Sea Mud Still Shines
Just as Cleopatra surmised, Dead Sea mud, in particular, seems to have both cosmetic and healing properties. It contains high concentrations of minerals such as magnesium and can hold heat for a long period of time. It has been found to be helpful in healing wounds, reducing skin inflammation, treating joint pain, stimulating blood circulation, enhancing lymphatic flow, and in cleansing the skin.
Dead Sea mud helps heal wounds, treat joint pain, stimulate circulation, cleanse the skin, and more.
It is not just Dead Sea mud that is good for treating what ails you. It turns out that different types of peloids have a variety of applications that are beneficial for humans. However, because mud from diverse regions have varying ingredients, they will naturally work differently.
No matter the type of mud, it seems that heat may be the key to its efficacy. Most peloids hold heat for long periods of time. This long-lasting heat can be soothing to those with aches and pains in their joints and muscles. Heat makes peloids ideal for the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders. In one clinical study, mud packs were found to be beneficial for patients with knee osteoarthritis.
The heat of mud baths could keep your heart healthy, too. A study found that those that partake in hot baths have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. While the study focused on water bathing, it isn’t too far of a stretch to think that maybe hot mud baths can have the same benefits.
Mud Baths Have Their Risks
Since the ingredients in the mud itself can vary, the side effects can vary, too. Various minerals and abrasive elements may irritate sensitive skin. In mud baths, the warmth of the mud can cause dehydration and may cause health problems for those with low blood pressure and angina.
Manufactured Mud Might Be the Future
Sources for peloids are limited. If used in large quantities, the mud can run out. The good news, though, is that mud is renewable. If left without human interaction, healing muds replenish quite quickly.
While bathing directly in the mud source doesn’t tend to harm the fauna and animals of the nearby area, removing the mud to create products for sale elsewhere may have a long-lasting effect. Going forward, local and federal governments will need to find ways to balance harvesting restrictions without impeding the monetary gains that locals reap from this resource.
Humans must also protect the planet at large to protect its mud. A massive source of therapeutic mud, the Dead Sea, is dying due to the effects of extreme heat in the area. It is currently shrinking by 3 to 5 feet per year.
Can peloids be replicated in a lab? It seems so. An experiment in 2004 found that peloids could be made artificially. This may mean that natural sources won’t need to be sourced in nature to reap the full benefits of mud, saving natural resources and ecosystems.
*Alina Bradford has been a published writer for more than two decades and has contributed her insights to SafeWise, CBS, MTV, Life Science, and many others.