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Roman Baths in Bath, England.

New Study Reveals Healing Properties of Water at Roman Baths in England

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Few surviving Roman installations are as popular in England as the Roman Baths, which can be found in the appropriately named city of Bath, Somerset. Nearly 2,000 years after these public facilities were first constructed, they remain well-preserved and protected, and more than a million visitors come to tour this multi-level Roman bathing complex every year.  

If new research into the properties of the water at the ancient natural hot springs spa are correct, people who came to immerse themselves in the baths in the past enjoyed more than just a relaxing experience. In a study just published in the journal The Microbe, researchers from the University of Plymouth’s School of Biomedical Sciences revealed the results of testing that showed the water in the Baths of Bath contains microbial lifeforms that produce antibiotic substances. These beneficial emissions are capable of vanquishing common but potentially deadly bacteria like E. coli and Staphylococcus Aureus, which are well-known threats to human health. 

According to the British scientists, if harvested on a large scale these healing substances could be used to manufacture fresh and effective medicines that might offer a solution to the problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). This is what dangerous microbes who’ve been treated with the same drugs over and over again can develop, giving them immunity to the effects of those medicines. 

“This is a really important, and very exciting, piece of research,” stated study senior author Dr. Lee Hutt, a Biomedical Sciences Lecturer, in a University of Plymouth press release. 

“Antimicrobial resistance is recognized as one of the most significant threats to global health, and the hunt for novel antimicrobial natural products is gathering pace. This study has for the first time demonstrated some of the microorganisms present within the Roman Baths, revealing it as a potential source of novel antimicrobial discovery.” 

Where the “Healing Waters” Really Are the Healing Waters 

The Roman Baths of Bath are not unique. The remains of such installations have been found in many countries, including Spain, Austria, Croatia, and Lebanon. The Romans were dedicated public bathers, and they took this habit with them wherever they went during the expansionist heyday of the Roman Empire. 

In general, the Romans chose locations for their baths where the water was believed to have legitimate therapeutic qualities.  

“There is no small irony in the fact the waters of the Roman Baths have long been regarded for their medicinal properties and now, thanks to advances in modern science, we might be on the verge of discovering the Romans and others since were right,” Dr. Hutt acknowledged. 

The eye-opening study that revealed the actual healing potential of the baths in Bath was carried out by a large group of University of Plymouth academics and students. The research team collected water, sediment, and biofilm samples from different locations within the large Roman bathing complex, including at the King’s Spring where water temperatures reach a steamy 113°F (45°C), and at the Great Bath where temperatures don’t rise above 86°F (30°C). 

Schematic diagram showing the layout of the Roman Baths 

Schematic diagram showing the layout of the Roman Baths, highlighting the King’s Spring which feeds the Great Bath. (Fina et al./The Microbe) 

Finding the Health-Giving Microbes in the Roman Baths 

Mixing sophisticated genetic sequencing technology and traditional bacterial culturing, the researchers’ specific intent was to separate and isolate microbes with demonstrable antibiotic properties. 

In total, the professors and their students were able to identify approximately 300 different types of bacteria from their samples. Out of this group 15, or five percent, demonstrated characteristics suggesting they could inhibit the spread of at least some human pathogens—most notably E.coli, Staphylococcus Aureus, and Shigella flexneri. Some of these promising microbes grew most abundantly in water with higher temperatures, while others thrived in lower-temperature liquids, indicating that a diversity of beneficial lifeforms was present. 

Needless to say, there is a huge research gap that will have to be filled before these health-promoting microorganisms can actually be harvested and cultured to create medicines. But what is most exciting is that the “good” bacteria that has been discovered has not been used to manufacture antibiotics previously, meaning the “bad” bacteria like E.coli would have no resistance to their effects. 

This is extremely significant, as AMR is a real and increasingly urgent concern. Resistance to antibacterial remedies by hazardous microbes is currently estimated to be responsible for about 1.25 million deaths annually, on a global basis. 

Visiting the Roman Baths of Bath 

Now that the truth about the apparently marvelous qualities of the water has gotten out, the number of visitors to the Baths of Baths is likely to increase substantially in the coming months. While people will still not be allowed to jump into the waters, some visitors may be strongly tempted to sneak off with some stealthily obtained samples, to take back home for their own personal use. 

“People have visited the springs in Bath for thousands of years, worshiping at, bathing in, and drinking the waters over the centuries,” noted Roman Baths Collections Manager Zofia Matyjaszkiewicz, who contributed to the University of Plymouth study. “Even in the Victorian period the Spa Treatment Center in Bath used the natural spring waters for their perceived curative properties in all sorts of showers, baths and treatments. It’s really exciting to see cutting edge scientific research like this taking place here, on a site with so many stories to tell.” 

Top image: Roman Baths in Bath, England. Source: Diego Delso/CC BY-SA 4.0 

 
Nathan Falde's picture

Nathan

Nathan Falde graduated from American Public University in 2010 with a Bachelors Degree in History, and has a long-standing fascination with ancient history, historical mysteries, mythology, astronomy and esoteric topics of all types. He is a full-time freelance writer from... Read More

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