Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 October 2012
Issue No. 1117
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Nature's cure

Join Amira El-Naqeeb as she finds out about some of nature's best remedies

Click to view caption
From sand burying in Aswan to the salt room in Cairo, nature's bounty is abundant

How many times did I hear someone say, "Good health is a crown on a well man's head that only a sick man can see"? Sometimes the cure is simple and within arm's reach, like grandma's advice, a local doctor's remedy or our surrounding environment. In Egypt, several destinations offer natural remedies such as salt room/cave treatments, sand burying and mud baths.

In fact, the Egyptian Tourist Authority (ETA) is promoting medical wellness tourism in Egypt, and supervises numerous programmes to publicise various therapeutic alternatives that Egypt's natural resources have to offer.

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THE POWER OF SALT: I entered what looked like a 12sqm room covered in white from ceiling to floor. The rugged walls feel like an ice grotto; the mood inside is cosy and relaxing with dim lighting, soft music and recliners. I took a moment to ground myself and be fully present with all my senses in the first salt room in Cairo. This treatment is also known as Halotherapy from the Greek word Halos meaning salt.

It is an ancient therapy mostly popular in countries endowed with natural salt caves/mines such as Salzburg, Romania and Russia. Being in this microclimate helps improve numerous diseases that are related to the respiratory system like asthma, chronic bronchitis, respiratory allergies and sinusitis. Also, some skin diseases like psoriasis and eczema.

The owner and founder of the Salt Room in Cairo, Romanian-born Alina Cammon, is simulating a microclimate similar to the one in natural caves using a machine that dispenses salt aerosol to be breathed in. I helped myself to one of the recliners and began to unwind physically and mentally with every breath.

The salt room is a room built inside a room; the walls are covered with raw salt brought from the Egyptian Mediterranean Sea and for the treatment they use untreated sodium chloride. The temperature inside the room is adjustable depending on the season and the temperature outside. There is also a family room with toys and a television for children to enjoy their time during the 45-minute treatment, which will set you back LE200 per session.

After my treatment, I put several questions to Cammon over two decaffeinated espressos.

Curious about why she launched this project in Egypt, Cammon said that being Romanian her parents would take her to natural salt caves when she was as young as five to boost her immune system before the seasons of autumn and spring, which are the months known for allergy attacks. According to Cammon, it is a very popular procedure to help clear mucus and the respiratory system.

"Living in Egypt, where the pollution is very high, I felt it would be very beneficial to make this treatment available," she explained. She added that Halotherapy could complement medication for those suffering from chronic asthma or any allergies, since it is a 100 per cent natural procedure that is drug-free.

Moreover, these sessions also help people who suffer from other ailments; many in Europe and the US use them to de-stress. "When you breathe properly your body gets its needed intake of oxygen, and you feel more relaxed," Cammon added.

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SALT CAVE AT THE MALL: Another venue for Halotherapy treatment is located in Sinai at the Taba Salt Cave, in the main shopping centre inside Taba Heights. The artificial salt cave, opened in 2009 and accommodates up to 26 people, is built to simulate the microclimate in natural salt caves. According to Salt Cave Manager Wahid Dessouki, visitors do not always suffer from health problems "but come to relax, enjoy the atmosphere, and refresh their lungs by inhaling iodine saturated air." The salt used in the cave is brought from the Dead Sea and Siwa.

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DARK HEALING POWERS: Egypt takes pride in its sandy beaches ranging in hues from honey-golden sand to Colgate white. But it is also endowed with black sand that is used in the treatment of psoriasis, rheumatoid and rheumatism. About 53km south of Hurghada is the Red Sea town of Safaga where Menaville Resort and spa is located to offer this specific treatment.

The project began when it became noticeable that visitors to the area suffering from rheumatoid, rheumatism and psoriasis were healed during their short stay at the resort. Menaville management quickly ordered scientific studies by contacting the Ministry of Scientific Research which delegated the National Research Centre (NRC) to study the phenomenon, Resort Managing Director Tarek Adham told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The NRC put together a team of rheumatoid and psoriasis doctors and specialists who wrote the "Field and Clinical Survey of Climatic Effects of Safaga on Skin Diseases and Arthropathy" that attributed healing to some factors (climatotherapy) that are specific to Safaga. Research found that black sand is useful in curing acute and chronic arthritis, joint edema, joint effusion and skin inflammation because it contains three radioactive elements: uranium, thorium and potassium.

"Constant sunshine throughout the year and high mountains surrounding Safaga City act as a natural defence against wind and sandstorms, but also hinders the diversion of ultraviolet rays that are the basis for psoriasis therapy," explained Adham.

Treatments performed at Menaville spa are under the supervision of a medical team.

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HEALING WITH A VIEW: Pyramisa Isis Island Resort & Spa Aswan also offers sand burying, as well as mud bath treatments. While being cured by natural techniques you will also be charmed by Aswan's picture-perfect panoramas. Surely, alternating your gaze between the Nile, lush greenery and Aswan's azure blue skies will boost and hasten the healing process.

Ahmed Abdel-Tawab, a sand and mud treatment specialist, explains the healing process that uses two types of sand for treating rheumatoid and rheumatism: black sand brought in either from Aswan or the Red Sea Resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, and yellow sand from Aswan. "Sand burying generally rids the body of humidity and excess water in the form of sweat," stated Abdel-Tawab. "We usually do the burying around 8am so we can benefit from the ultraviolet rays which are essential for the healing process."

Mud baths are another treatment offered at the hotel spa which helps treat psoriasis, but are also generally good for the skin so healthy people can also do them. A mud bath or a sand burying session costs LE104 for foreigners and Egyptians alike.

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Gabal Al-Dakrouri: As well as its fame for hosting the three-day annual Siwa Festival in October according to the Hijri moon calendar, Gabal Al-Dakrouri is also legendary for treating rheumatism and joint pain. According to some studies, the Siwa sand especially in this area has shown great healing powers, with the best months for hot sand natural treatment being July and August. Treatments are arranged by local specialists.

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