Feeling guilty about overdoing it over the Thanksgiving holiday? Medical researchers have identified an easy, stress-free way to shed unwanted pounds and get your health back on track, if you have a little time and money on your hands: Visit a health spa.
Thomas Jefferson University Hospital researchers found a week-long stay at a spa not only lowers visitors’ stress levels, but can help boost healthy nutrition and encourage lifestyle changes that lead to weight loss and an increase in overall physical and mental health.
"Programs such as these have never before been formally evaluated for their safety and physiological effects," said Dr. Andrew Newberg, director of research at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine, who led the study to be published in the in the December issue of Integrative Medicine, A Clinician's Journal.
Newberg said his research is one of the first to attach scientific data to the outcomes of a health and wellness spa stay.
For the study, researchers evaluated 15 participants before and after their visit to We Care Spa, a health and wellness spa in Desert Hot Springs, California. The results showed the program was not only safe but helped to improve the participants' general health, diet, and sense of emotional well-being.
The week-long program included dietary modification, and colonic hydrotherapy, and very low calorie diet of approximately 800 calories per day. Stress management was provided through daily meditation and yoga programs. Participants were also asked to modify their diet 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, between the ages of 21 and 85, had no history of significant medical, neurological, or psychological conditions. Each underwent a physical evaluation before and after his or her spa visit. The results showed the spa program resulted in an average weight loss of 6.8 pounds, a 7.7 percent decrease in diastolic blood pressure, a 5.2 percent decline in cholesterol levels, and a reduction in mercury, sodium, and chloride levels. Improvements in anger management, tension, vigor, fatigue, and confusion were also noted, as well as significant improvements in anxiety and depression levels measured by standard psychological testing.
No serious adverse effects were reported, but researchers noted changes in the participants' sodium and chloride concentrations, and suggested those interested in going to a spa program check with their physicians first to make sure they do not have any medical problems or take medications that could put them at risk for electrolyte disturbances.
Newberg said researchers could not pinpoint the specific beneficial effects of each of the individual elements of the program. "This 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," he said.
The researchers now plan to test the benefits of a spa stay on the management of diabetes.