Sunday, October 5, 2008

Fancy a Dip in the Dead Sea?

Why is it called the Dead Sea? It is referred to as the Dead Sea because no aquatic organisms such as fish or water plants live in it due to its high salinity, which increases with depth.

With more than 300 sunny days per year, the Dead Sea is attracting an ever growing number of patients suffering from a variety of diseases yearly. According to Wolf et al (2003), the Dead Sea and the whole region around its shores are bursting with life, and the leading powers of its waters, especially in treating rheumatic and skin diseases, have been recognised from ancient times. The natural elements and minerals in the sea, in addition to the mud present on the shores, give the water their curative powers. Climatological and balneological therapies recognised as spa treatments by patients, physicians and dermatologists have led to the use of artificial-light parlours for ultraviolet A (UVA), UVB and photochemotherapy (PUVA) [1-3].
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Climatotherapy is the treatment of a disease by means of residence in a suitable climate. At the Dead Sea, Climatotherapy is a natural approach to the treatment of psoriasis and other skin diseases, and has been successfully used for more than 25 years in the treatment of moderate to severe psoriasis [3, 4].

So what makes the Dead Sea and Climatotherapy so attractive one might ask? Well, putting aside the sheer pleasure of taking time off to pamper oneself under the guise of treating a skin disease, this treatment does work due to the natural curative factors at the Dead Sea area [2, 3].

Sunlight/UV radiation
The highly successful treatment of diseases at the Dead Sea does not involve the use of drugs; it however comes from the naturally filtered ultraviolet radiation, with minimal phototoxicity, permitting prolonged exposure to sunlight. Its relatively safe UV radiation is due to the thick atmospheric layer over the Dead Sea, with its vapour and haze, and to the great amount of ozone, which is minimally depleted compared to other areas, as well as to the low humidity and warm climate. Due to deletion of UV radiation, longer exposure to ambient UV radiation is possible and as such some patients who cannot tolerate lengthy sun exposure at sea-level can do so at the Dead Sea [1, 2].

The temperature of the area surrounding the Dead Sea is high all year round, with an annual average of 30.4°C. Humidity is low, so is rainfall [2].

The thick haze overhanging the Dead Sea is rich in minerals, particularly bromine. The high atmospheric bromine level hanging over the Dead Sea is as a result of bromine-containing aerosols derived from the sea. It is thought that inhalation of bromides improves the condition of psoriatics, particularly those with stress-related psoriasis, as they have a relaxing and sedative effect. The atmosphere over the Dead Sea is also oxygen rich. This high level of oxygen is useful for breathing and extrametabolic activity [1, 2].

High mineral content
The high mineral content of the Dead Sea has also been considered a major factor in treating a variety of diseases. The sea contains about 320 g/L salts with KCl, MgCl2, CaCl2, and NaCl being the major components. Compared to the ocean, the Dead Sea is richer in its proportion of calcium, magnesium, potassium and bromide, and lower in its proportion of sodium, sulphate and carbonate. Of major importance from this list of elements and salts is magnesium, which has a concentration in the Dead Sea 30-times higher than that in the ocean. It is an important element in certain epidermal processes and an imbalance in these processes can result in excessive cellular proliferation, which is a major part of the psoriatic state. Hence a deep in the Dead Sea may be useful in regulating magnesium levels necessary in such epidermal processes. Magnesium also has an anticarcinogenic effect, such that tissues which have high concentrations of magnesium have lower cancer incidence compared with tissues with low concentrations of magnesium [1].

‘Black mud’
Another mineral-rich constituent of the Dead Sea is its ‘black mud’ also known as ‘bituminous tar’. The therapeutic effect of this processed mud is due to its high mineral content and its ability to retain heat for many hours, thereby stimulating the blood circulation and clearing the skin of dead epidermal cells. Bituminous tar is historically known to have been used medically in the treatment of various rheumatological diseases, including psoriatic arthritis [1].

In addition…
The Dead Sea area is relatively clear of elements of pollution such as industrial wastes, heavy traffic or intensive vegetation, making it ideal for the relief of respiratory ailments. The growth of house dust mite is inhibited in the Dead Sea climate and as such makes it a pollution free as well as allergen-poor environment [1].
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The type of treatment to be administered is individually determined for each patient after complete examination and evaluation of the disease extension. Factors to be taken into consideration include percentage of skin involvement, skin type, presence of other skin diseases, previous treatment, and previous visits to the Dead Sea [5].

Other dermatological diseases, which can be treated by Climatotherapy at the Dead Sea, include eczema, vitiligo and atopic dermatitis [5].


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