Every summer thousands of Italians, Germans and Eastern Europeans flock to the Ischia, a volcanic island off the coast of Italy to practice of salus per aquae, or "health through water." But it is more than a question of relaxing in warm water. If that's all it was they could soak in their tubs at home.
The Italian Ministry of Health recognizes the waters here as a legitimate treatment for arthritis, osteoporosis, chronic inflammation of the sciatic nerve, inflammations of the primary respiratory tract and skin disorders, most effectively when taken in a course of daily treatments over twelve days.
Ischia is a volcanic island, which accounts for the high concentration of thermal waters -- 103 hot springs and 29 fumaroles. That's the highest of any spa destination in Europe. But it's not just the quantity of the waters, it's the quality.
Rich in calcium, magnesium, hydrogen carbonate, sodium, sulfur, iodine, chlorine, iron, potassium and micro elements of other active substances, the waters are known as “multi- active” because of the numerous beneficial qualities they possess. Sodium brings about a soothing state that relaxes the muscles; calcium and magnesium content stimulates digestive activity; sulfur is anti-inflammatory; and potassium is essential for muscle dynamics. But there is a secret ingredient: radon, in very low doses, that stimulates the endocrine system.
When Marie Curie came to Ischia in 1918 she determined the waters were radioactive, with various components of radium, radon, thorium, uranium and actinium.
The levels are extremely low, and instead of harming you, stimulate the endocrine system. Children under 12 aren't allowed in the pools because their endocrine system is already active.
The radioactive content of Ischia's thermal water explains why you have to go to the island to get the benefit.
The radon has such a short half-life that the waters don't have the same effect if they are bottled and transported elsewhere.
Radon is a gas which is dissolved in the water and comes from an alpha particle emanated by an atom of radium. Being a gas, it is absorbed into the skin and eliminated several hours later. The radioactivity of the Ischian waters is not harmful. Levels are so low a sheet of paper is sufficient to stop it from penetrating. And because the radon is always being eliminated quickly, it isn’t able to bio-accumulate.
The thermal-mineral waters of Ischia emanate from underground reservoirs fed by rainwater which infiltrates porous ground. It is then warmed by heat sources located in the depths of the soil. The water is transformed into steam and rises to the surface. The steam heats the superficial and underground water sources to generate the thermal-mineral water.
In the 16th century, a Napoli doctor named Guilio Iasolino visited the island and recognized the medical potential of the thermal waters. He began to do empirical research by treating six or seven patients in each springs and describing the results. Over time he discovering which springs were most beneficial for specific conditions and published a book, Natural Remedies That Are The Island Pithaecusa, Known as Ischia.
It is still considered a great resource on understanding the beneficial impact of various springs.
There are many ways to enjoy to the thermal waters of Ischia. Nearly every hotel has its own thermal pool you can take daily soaks in. There are thermal water parks where you can while away the day, soaking in pools of varying styles and temperatures.