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Mud Therapy in Bulgaria

by Pippa Canney(more info)

listed in complementary medicine, originally published in issue 159 - June 2009

Better known for its recent property bonanza and clement summer weather, Bulgaria has something else to offer for the more adventurous and earthy, not readily available in the UK. In various places up and down the Black Sea coast there are mud therapy centres that offer something quite different from any type of mud therapy offer in the UK. This is what I'd call 'real' mud – thick, black, viscous and decidedly whiffy! Simply put, treatment involves its application to the skin. This mud comes straight from lagoons, is unprocessed and raw. Several of the spa hotels on the Black Sea coast have whole treatment suites dedicated to the therapy. These places are easily distinguished by the heavy sulphurous odour emanating and hanging around their wards and corridors. Other less commercialized centres exist that cater for the average Bulgarian. They are cheap and have a no-nonsense approach to treatment and presentation style. They are also a very Real experience. You are there, at the very place that the mud was dredged from the lake, receiving your treatment in the open air. You go, absorb the unique health giving qualities of the mud in its own environment, and then come away taking within you the therapeutic qualities of that environment. Wholistic certainly comes to mind. Earthing is another.
 
Tuzlata, meaning salt in Turkish, is one such place. Originally a naturally formed saltpan, whereby the sea cliffs slumped to form a lagoon shallow enough to dry off the sea water and enable the harvesting of salt. In 1957 the then communist authorities built the Tuzlata Sanatorium and Hospital for Rehabilitation by the lagoon, which was then modified slightly. The sea wall was reinforced and the lagoon divided into two. The resulting lake, never more than 60cms deep, was created for the mud treatment centre, which is perched on the edge of the saltiest lagoon. It was created by the communists "for the benefit of the Bulgarian people for the maintenance and improvement of health".[1] The mud spa is part of a larger therapeutic establishment, the buildings of which are nearby, and where a hot spring emerges and is also put to good therapeutic use. Originally considered of the greatest benefit to the elderly, treatment of younger people and children soon followed.

Although the treatment centres at Tuzlata are quite extensive, you would be quite forgiven in missing them entirely. Buried in the spreading forest that lies at the foot of the coastal cliffs and at the end of a long and over grown tarmac, no through road, the first impression is of an establishment long since deserted but ideally located.

The treatment spa is located on the banks of the lagoon furthest away from the sea. Pine trees on one side and the sea on the other, a very calming and relaxing atmosphere pervades. No road noise, no hustle and definitely no bustle here. The building is split in two to allow segregation of the sexes, each building half being identical to its twin next door. The building is windowless, single storey, overgrown and discreet. No obvious signs as to the purpose of the building, or indeed the way in! The shabby white painted door set in the poorly rendered wall has a few signs pinned on that give you a clue. If you are lucky, at the height of the season there will be a lady sat at an old desk dragged from some old office, taking money and distributing tickets. For the princely sum of 3 lev (roughly £1.40) you get the use of the spa. There is no time limit.

Spas Waters Edge
Spas Waters Edge

On entering, there is a run of doorless changing cubicles (they had doors on them last year!) that no one seems to use. Once past these, you step out of the building into a large square open space. This is surrounded on three sides by high walls – a suntrap. The fourth side opposite you is open and looks out onto the lagoon and the trees beyond. The enclosure is south facing and carpeted with sand. Parasols are arranged across the 'beach', suitably spaced to give everyone plenty of room. Walking over to the lagoon, the banks have been terraced with the local Balchik stone, which is an attractive carboniferous stone full of fossilised shells. Numerous wooden benches sit on the terraces and steps lead down to the water where a final ramp with a handrail takes you to the waters edge. On the terrace nearest to the lagoon's edge two old domestic enamel baths, resplendent with mud, ingratiate themselves. There are showers at the back of the spa fed by a hot sulphurous mineral spring. A partition, which is not entirely intact and botched up with chipboard, runs into the water continuing the segregation of the sexes. The spa doesn't look as if it has had a refit since 1957 when it was first created. 30–40 ladies, in various stages of the treatment were either standing around in the sun waiting for their application of mud to dry, or relaxing on the benches or on the sand. Several were bathing in the lagoon. Normal protocol is to go naked, but really you can do what you like and quite frankly, after a liberal coating of mud you can't tell. In the best of British fashion, I kept in my bikini and was pleased to find that the mud didn't stain and washed out easily from the fabric.

Waterside showing enamel baths
Waterside showing enamel baths

The general course of the treatment is surprising in that for your 3 Levs you are expected to take at least 4 hours for the treatment. Indeed this would be considered as cutting the treatment short. The treatment is also self-service which enables greater relaxation as you can move from one stage to the next at your own pace, and you don't have to interact with any therapist. This is an important feature if you like your own space. Most people make a day of it. I have visited the spa 3 times now and each time I have received a more complete treatment as I picked up off my fellow spa goers how the treatment is meant to proceed. It is much more involved than what you initially expect – if you want to do it properly that is! Thanks to authoritative information from interviewing Dr Kircheva, the resident doctor of the nearby Tuzlata treatment centre, and the efforts of my interpreter friend, I think that it is as follows:

  1. The first stage is to take a bath in the lagoon for about 20 minutes. This hydrates the skin, making it more permeable to the effects or the mud. The water itself is of therapeutic value, is an alarming yellow colour and vaguely sulphurous (bad eggs smell!). As you walk into the water, you can feel the very smooth, texture of the mud as it pushes up between the toes, a remarkably sensual experience, and then as you enter the water, how well you float, the high salt content of the water making you much more buoyant than normal;
  2. Now it is time to dry off in the sun. It is important to let the skin dry naturally and not use a towel. This enables the salt content of the water to dry on the skin. The heat of the sun warms the skin and opens the pores, further preparing the skin for the mud. After about 20 minutes, or until you are nice and warm, you can move on to the application;
  3. The mud is scooped from the bottom of the lagoons and the enamel baths filled every morning. It is just a question of scooping it out with your hands and spreading it over the parts that you want treating. Most people put it all over except for the hair. I noticed others put it only on their joints. Some people left it off their faces. I did notice a few elderly ladies that avoided application to their chests, a sign that they may have mild heart problems. There is no worry about reaching your back as someone is always willing to help out if you can't reach that far round. Everyday Bulgarians are very congenial.
    You then have to wait for your application to dry. This takes from 60-90 minutes. Most people stand and chat at this stage or go and stand at the back of the spa against the wall, where it is hottest. On one occasion I lay on the sand and effectively transformed into some strange sea creature from Pirates of the Caribbean as the sand stuck, shells and all! It's OK to do this, but better when the mud is a little dry!
  4. Back to the lagoon to wash your application off. This can take a while, and again, you may need some help with the bits you may have missed or can't reach. People with delicate skin should wash with care, as the mud may be too abrasive if washed off too vigorously. The odd shell found in the mud is not uncommon!
  5. Take a shower in the hot sulphurous spring water. Again, it is recommended that you dry naturally to get maximum benefit from the mineral water;
  6. Now it is time to relax for 3-4 hours or longer if necessary. During this time, no tap water is recommended to wash your skin and no detergents. The skin pores are still open to absorb anything that you apply, which includes chlorine in tap water and various chemicals found in body washes. Application of products is also not recommended as this closes the pores curtailing therapeutic effects that might otherwise be allowed to continue;
  7. Take the rest of the day off!

Some More about the Mud

The mud used for this treatment system is known as a peloid. A Peloid is a mud used therapeutically. Peloids are as various as their different sources. Generally they are formed from the ingredients found in their immediate vicinity – humus (plant matter) and minerals that have combined and formed over many years by geological and biological, chemical and physical processes. Popular forms of peloid come as peat pulps, lake mud, sea mud and plant substances. They have been used medicinally in Europe in the form of packs, wraps and baths for quite a few hundred years. There is much evidence that their use extends back to prehistory. They are also of value in cosmetology applied as a skin treatment mask.

Tuzlata mud is unique, as all un-tampered peloids are, as it is specific to certain climatic, topographical and geological influences. Also, the peloid forming process is actively encouraged by human interference. For example, the discreet manmade sea walls protect the lagoons from destructive winter storms that may wash too much away. In addition, the management of the spa is very conscious of protecting the spa from any negative human influence that may destroy the tranquil healing environment or pollute the health giving qualities of the lagoons. The peloid mud at Tuzlata is formed when seawater comes into the lagoons – there is a small culvert through the sea wall, but mostly in the winter during rough weather, when sea waves can break over the sea wall. The salts and minerals in the seawater concentrate due to evaporation. Organisms in the seawater die off and fall to the bottom of the lagoons. These decaying organic matters, both animal and vegetable, react with the mud and the concentrated seawater already there to form a peloid mud full of salts and substances. In addition to this, the lagoons are fed by the sulphurous spring, further adding to the cocktail. The resulting peloid is highly complex in composition. According to Dr Kircheva, the chief therapeutic agents in the mud and water at Tuzlata are Calcium and Magnesium ions, the other constituents adding to the therapeutic effect to a greater or lesser effect.

To give a generalized idea of the benefits, here is what Bartram [2] has to say about Calcium, Magnesium and Sulphur:

"Calcium combines with protein to give structural solidarity to bones and flesh. Given with benefit to all bone problems, delayed union after injury, brittleness in the elderly, delayed dentition and weakness in rapidly growing children. Cataracts. Rickets in children. Muscle cramps, spasms, tremors, nervousness, insomnia and joint pains. Bodily effects include healthy teeth and bones, blood clotting, nerve and muscle resilience.

"Magnesium is an important mineral. Essential for use of vitamins B1 and B6, a deficiency of which affects the nervous system. Vasodilator. Platelet inhibitor. Deficiency may lead to disorders of arteries and kidneys: brittle bones, pre-menstrual tension, heart disease, muscle cramps, hypoglycaemia, insomnia, palpitation, tremor of hands or lower limbs; anorexia, anxiety, depression, tiredness, dizziness, confusion. Studies reveal that two thirds of patients with peripheral vascular disease are magnesium deficient. Absorption is blocked by the contraceptive pill, a high milk or fat intake. Chronic fatigue syndrome. Heart attack. It enables the co-ordination of nerves and muscles. Healthy teeth and bones. This metal activates more enzymes in the body than any other mineral.

"Sulphur is a non-metallic trace element essential to health. Skin disorders. For healthy skin, hair and nails."

All the normal constituents of seawater will be found in a more concentrated form due to the evaporation process. These will be ions of sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, boron, strontium, carbonate, sulphate, chloride, bromide, fluoride and carbon. To name but a few of the trace minerals – iodine, aluminium, iron, cobalt, nickel, copper and zinc.

Whilst interviewing Dr Kircheva I offered to get the mud analyzed. She informed me, however, that the mud starts to deteriorate as soon as it is removed from the lagoon waters, thus confining its use to close proximity. Analysis would have to be pretty prompt to be accurate, and also cover a broad spectrum of substances to include the biological constituents and their possible derivatives such as hormones, phenols, vitamins, amino and fatty acids, polysaccharides, siliceous and humic acids. Research has been done by Russians and Eastern Europeans who have long been aware of the value of these muds, which can be found all along the coast of the Black Sea. Unfortunately my language skills fail me when it comes to deciphering foreign science papers!
 
The therapeutic powers of the mud are extensive. Because the mud is black it readily absorbs the full spectrum of the suns rays. The mineral action works to tighten pores and tone the skin. Inner congestion is relieved easing pain. It is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bactericidal, immunostimulating, boosts bodily exchange processes, purifies, rejuvenates, revitalizes, moisturizes and increases microcirculation. Dr Kicheva states that the main ailments treated with the mud at the hospital are diseases of the central and peripheral nervous system, muscular-skeletal conditions including rehabilitation, gynaecological complaints and skin conditions. Arthritis, sciatica, trauma, MS, conception, eczema, stress, and insomnia are a few more treatment possibilities. To treat stroke, for example, Dr Kircheva would design a program that would include a course of electrical treatment in conjunction with mud application. For conception, an extended course of mud applications would be recommended. The only contraindications for treatment – reasons to approach treatment with caution or not at all – are high blood pressure and varicose veins. The vasodilatory effect of the treatment would be counterproductive. Vasodilation means that the vessels carrying blood round the body dilate, that is grow wider, which means that blood pressure drops as there is more room for the blood to move around. Lowering the blood pressure is relaxing and de-stressing; however if your heart doesn't function correctly or needs to keep the pressure high to do its job, it will be put under additional strain as it struggles to deliver an adequate quantity of blood to the body. The extra blood in the varicose veins can put additional strain on the already stressed vessel walls. Localized application should be avoided.

What the Mud Does

The damp, moistness of the peloid mud relaxes the skin, opening the pores. This allows impurities to be drawn out affecting a deep cleanse. At the same time nutrients are absorbed from the mud. As the mud dries the skin is tightened, and circulation of blood and lymph increases, accelerating the exchange process. Not only does the skin benefit from the 'food' drawn from the mud; the increase in circulation delivers nutrients already in the body, like oxygen for example. Impurities in the tissues, if not drawn out of the skin, are flushed away to the other organs of excretion; nutrients that have been absorbed through the skin are transported around the body to where they are needed. This removal of impurities and the double delivery of nutrients are very rejuvenating not only for the skin, but for the rest of the body as well. The skin will function more efficiently.

Noticeable Effects!

Once the body is free of its burden of mud, the texture of the skin feels sensational. Apart from anything else, the treatment is a great exfoliate! Erythema (skin flushing red) is provoked due to the increase of circulation to the skin that draws blood away from non-essential areas of the body like the digestive system. On a personal note, my digestive system didn't want to know about the sandwich I ate for lunch! All the blood had gone to my skin, shutting down digestion and making me very sleepy and relaxed. It took several hours for my digestion and skin to return to normal. This is a common reaction. The feelings of relaxation, euphoria even, are very pronounced in quite a few people and can be partly attributed to lower blood pressure. Due to people's differing psychological and physiological make-ups, perceived results are varied. Whether it's because of the lowering of the blood pressure or the release of toxins into the system, it can make you feel a little light-headed, which is why it is a good idea to take it easy during and after the treatment. Whenever there is the possibility of toxins being released from tissues, it is a good idea to drink plenty of water to ease the cleansing process along and thereby avoiding headaches, sluggish feelings and all the symptoms associated with de-toxing.

The Future

Because the spa comes under the jurisdiction of the municipality, its future should be safe. However, time will tell whether this particularly unspoilt stretch of the coast will be saved from the developer's grasp. What is special about the treatment centre at Tuzlata apart from the authenticity, serenity, beauty and all the squirrels that come down from the woods and flood the place every autumn(!), is that it is accessible for the everyday Bulgarian to use; a wonderful piece of national heritage that should be saved for posterity and that I feel very lucky to be able to enjoy. I am a definite fan!

The spa at Tuzlata is located on the northern Black Sea coast of Bulgaria to the north of Varna. It can be found by taking the coast road from Balchik east for 4 km and then turning right. If you get to a right turn for White Lagoon, you have gone too far.

References

1.    Tuzlata Sanatorium and Hospital for Rehabilitation. Description, History and Statement of Intent. Tuzlata. 2008.
2.    Bartram T. Bartram's Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. Robinson. London. ISBN 1-85487-586-8.1998.

Comments:

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About Pippa Canney

Pippa Canney is a Member of the Complementary Therapists Association  www.complementary.assoc.org.uk and is a complementary therapist who has practised in Somerset for the last 8 years. Pippa is qualified in Massage, Aromatherapy, Reflexology, Bowen, Reiki, Hopi ear candles, Indian head massage, Hot Stones. She is currently spending some time in Bulgaria, which is enabling her to study, among other things, the work of Dr Hulda Clark. She can be contacted via  pippacanney@gmail.com Please give the subject of any mail Re: Positive Health Article so that it is not regarded as junk mail or from an unknown source.

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