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Friday, April 02, 2010


Since at least Roman times & probably much longer people have "taken the waters" for their health. I must admit I have not found any statistical evidence that it works, or indeed that it doesn't & it may be both supporters & conventional doctors have been unenthusiastic about making a definitive finding. Nonetheless thousands of years of repeat customers is a positive anecdotal result.

The waters that are taken are uniformly from springs deep underground, often polluted with sulphur & containing varying levels of radioactivity from radon & other deeply buried radioactive materials. If the sulphur isn't doing the good that leaves us with yet another example of radiation hormesis. Here is an example of the popularity of particularly highly radioactive spa.
Every day hundreds of elderly Germans splash around in the spa waters at Schlema, which contain low levels of radon, a radioactive gas generated from the decay of uranium, with the conviction it can cure ailments such as rheumatism...

Germany’s handful of radioactive spas have a tradition dating back a century and even in this post-Chernobyl age, more sensitive to radioactivity, local officials are betting on the radioactive spa to revive the town’s future.

Schlema, with a population of about 6,000, enjoyed its heyday during the Nazi era, when it boasted of being the most radioactive spot on Earth and had more than 100 hotels and guesthouses to receive visitors...

After the war, the victorious Soviet occupiers realized the uranium in this region about 150 miles south of Berlin was too valuable for just splashing around in... The spa was destroyed and visitors barred as mining continued until the collapse of East German communism in 1990...

“Radonia," a statuary tribute to radon personified as a water nymph, stands naked outside, drinking from a jug of irradiated water...

Spa marketing director Evelyn Weiss says radon treatments not only cure ailments, they revive visitors’ sex lives. As is normal in Germany, male and female guests share a naked sauna.

At the government’s Radiation Protection Agency, officials say the radon spa is fine for those suffering health problems.

{Since this does not fit the official LNT theory it would be astonishing if officals didn't oppose it, indeed it is surprising how little hysteria they are producing]

But some experts say the healing powers of radioactive radon are dubious and risky.

“Other aspects of the ‘spa experience’ may be beneficial overall, but the irradiation of internal organs by radon and its decay products or exposure to radon per se is unlikely to be helpful," said Otto Raabe, professor emeritus of radiation biophysics at the University of California at Davis.

William Field of the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health says patients suffering from arthritis may feel better after a hot bath in ordinary water.

And he says there are health risks from radon. “Numerous epidemiological studies of radon-exposed underground miners and the recent residential epidemiological study we performed in the United States indicate that radon gas exposure causes lung cancer," he said. [um not so, the opposite is the truth]

“The radon spas should not serve as a substitute for conventional health care," he continued. “While it is possible that the radon gas exposure does cause some beneficial health effect, owners of the spas should inform the spas’ users that there might also be some risk involved."

In Schlema, nearly everyone discounts such risks and cites a 1992 study that said radon was more effective than hot water. “On weekends we have little babies swimming here," Weiss said. “We couldn’t do it if it were dangerous."

Just in case, workers in the area of especially concentrated radon baths wear a dosimeter to measure radioactivity.

At the spa’s main swimming pool, a disco version of the Beatles “All My Loving" started playing as a geriatric water aerobics class got under way. Gray hair and candy-colored bathing caps bobbed up and down.

Off to the side rested Gerd Richter, 66, who once mined uranium in the nearby hills. Now he is turning to Radonia again, hoping the nymph can cure his aching joints after decades of tough work in the mines.

“I’ve noticed that it does help," he said, adding that he now comes twice a month.
I haven't found the 1982 study mentioned but have found this paper on Radon spas in Montana.
the people who use radon therapy are predominantly elderly. With increasing age, the body metabolizes medications less efficiently, and compounding the problem, age brings more chronic illnesses, and the increased likelihood that multiple medications are being taken. Drug side effects, which can be severe at any age, can be worse for elderly people. And, according to many mine visitors, the medications they had been taking had lost their effectiveness over time. 03-31-2010, 11:56 PM lazybratsche
This fits very well with an intelligent suggestion of an evolutionary mechanism by which radiation particularly slows the effects of aging that I got in an online discussion in which I had possibly overstated the relevance of evidence of animal hormesis to humans.
Hormesis actually fits quite well with evolutionary theory. First you must realize that evolution does not select for long lifespan, but reproductive success. There's only a slight fitness advantage to living longer in order to reproduce more often. The basic argument (supported by quantitative genetic modeling) is that genes that allow an individual to age a bit slower and reproduce successfully for an extra season or two don't confer much of an advantage since that individual is likely to be killed off through a multitude of other causes (disease, predation, competition, etc). Furthermore, there's a strong link between reproductive timing and longevity. Experiments have shown that if you take a population and select for earlier reproduction, you also get shorter lifespans. The converse is also true -- select for delayed reproduction, and you get animals with longer lifespans.

How does this connect with hormesis? Well, that hits another fundamental evolutionary trade off: should I spend the resources to reproduce now, or grow and maintain my body so I can better reproduce later? In times of plenty, with good conditions and availability of food, a successful individual will reproduce as much as possible. But in harder times, that individual will have greater success by conserving resources to survive until better conditions arrive again. Hormesis is thought to be part of the mechanisms involved in sensing conditions, and allocating resources in the body accordingly.

Dietary restriction is probably the most obvious sort of example -- it's not exactly the same as hormesis, but it has a lot of shared underlying genetics. When there isn't much food around, reproduction is clearly a foolish choice, since neither the parent nor the offspring are likely to survive. So under those conditions, animals activate genetic pathways that allocate resources away from reproduction and instead to maintenance and longevity. Similar results occur from other types of stress that are known to cause hormesis.

(FWIW, I study the genetics of longevity and hormesis, using aforementioned worms.)

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I have had very good experience with radon for arthritis. I generate my own radon using a revigator and put the water into the bathtub. It works better than any medicine I have tried.

Ian Soutar
Vancouver Island.
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