In a recent exploration published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers delved into the transformative effects of Japanese hot springs on the gut microbiota of healthy individuals. The findings shed light on the compelling advantages of indulging in therapeutic springs.
The practice of immersing oneself in hot spring or mineral water, known as balneotherapy, has long been associated with a myriad of health benefits. From enhancing the quality of life and sleep for those with skin and musculoskeletal conditions to alleviating issues such as hypertension, stress, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and various gynecological, rheumatological, and dermatological symptoms – the therapeutic potential is vast. Balneotherapy is even believed to positively impact individuals dealing with psoriasis and atopic dermatitis by influencing both the skin and gut microbiota.
Japan's Hot Spring Law categorizes therapeutic hot springs into ten distinct types based on their substance composition and concentrations. However, the specific therapeutic benefits of each type and their impact on healthy individuals without pre-existing health conditions have remained unexplored.
In a groundbreaking study, researchers investigated the influence of various hot spring categories on the gut microbiome in a group of healthy individuals. The study, conducted in the Kyushu area, focused on participants aged 18 to 65 who hadn't experienced a hot spring bath in the preceding two weeks and were free from chronic illnesses.
Participants selected a hot spring facility and indulged in a daily soak in the same tub for a minimum of 20 minutes over seven consecutive days. Throughout the experiment, they maintained their usual routines, adhered to regular mealtimes, and were advised against excessive drinking and overeating. Those unable to meet these criteria were excluded from the analysis. Fecal samples were collected before and after the experiment for microbiota analysis, identifying the most prevalent genera.
The study included 127 participants, with a diverse mix of genders, and their fecal samples were scrutinized after completing the hot spring experiment. The hot springs were categorized into simple, chloride, bicarbonate, and sulfur types based on specific temperature and dissolved substance criteria.
Noteworthy bacterial increases were observed in seven categories, with Oscillibacter and Parabacteroides in the simple spring bathers, Ruminococcus, Oscillibacter, and Bifidobacterium bifidum in the bicarbonate spring bathers, and Alistipes and another Ruminococcus species in the sulfur spring bathers. Oscillibacter was the sole bacterium found in multiple groups. Interestingly, no significant changes were noted in individuals using chloride springs.
The most significant change was observed in B. bifidum, showing a substantial 2.8% increase in individuals bathing in bicarbonate springs. Simple springs correlated with a 0.7% increase in Parabacteroides, while Oscillibacter, prevalent in two groups, rose by 0.31% in those using bicarbonate springs and 0.14% in those using simple springs. Sulfur springs displayed an increase in Alistipes concentrations by 1.5% and Ruminococcus2 by 0.87%.
In this groundbreaking study, the first of its kind exploring the impact of hot spring bathing on gut microbiota, intriguing conclusions have emerged. The distinctive mineral properties inherent in different hot spring types were found to uniquely alter the gut microbiome, showcasing an increase in the concentrations of specific bacteria. These baseline findings open the door for future research to delve into how these chemical profiles can be harnessed to target precise microbe responses.
Of particular interest is the notable increase in B. bifidum concentrations observed in individuals using bicarbonate springs. This bacterium, known for enhancing glucose tolerance, relieving constipation, fortifying gut immunity, and providing protection against enteropathogenic infections, sparks considerable intrigue. While other bacteria exhibit mixed effects – Parabacteroides, for instance, may exacerbate amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) symptoms but are also linked to longevity.
The study acknowledges a significant limitation, namely the absence of a control group and reliance on a before-after comparison. Future endeavors in this field can address this by incorporating a 'sauna control' or introducing a 'no bathing' group. Expanding participant pools across diverse communities ensures broader generalizability. Subsequent work in this area aims to refine therapies for various health concerns, promoting the proliferation of beneficial bacteria while curbing the rise of less favorable genera.