This article is about a form of therapy used in the 18th and 19th century.
A water cure in the therapeutic sense is a course of medical treatment by hydrotherapy.
One form of water therapy, advocated by some
proponents, is the consumption of a gutful of water upon waking in order to "cleanse the bowel". A litre to a litre-and-a-half is the common amount ingested. This water therapy, also known as Indian, Chinese, or Japanese Water Therapy, is claimed to have a wide range of health benefits, or at least no adverse effects.
Advocates of water therapy claim that application of water therapy at first will cause multiple bowel movements until the body adjusts to the increased amount of fluid.
While ingesting about a litre-and-a-half of water is generally considered harmless, excessive consumption of water can lead to
, an urgent and dangerous medical condition.
In the mid-19th century there was a popular revival of the
in Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
During this time the term
was used synonymously with
, the term by which hydrotherapy was known in the 19th century and early 20th century.
However, the therapeutic use of water precedes this popular revival. Its use has been recorded in ancient
Two seminal publications preceded the populist revival of the 19th century. Firstly, Sir John Floyer, a physician of Lichfield, was struck by the remedial use of certain springs by the neighbouring peasantry, investigated the history of cold bathing and published a book on the subject in 1702. The book ran through six editions within a few years and the translation was largely drawn upon by Dr J. S. Hahn (1696-1773) of Silesia in a work published in 1738.
Secondly, a 1797 publication by Dr James Currie of Liverpool on the use of hot and cold water in the treatment of fever and other illness, with a fourth edition published in 1805, not long before his death. It was also translated into German by Michaelis (1801) andHegewisch (1807). It was highly popular and first placed the subject on a scientific basis. Hahn's writings had meanwhile created much enthusiasm among his countrymen, societies having been everywhere formed to promote the medicinal and dietetic use of water; and in 1804 Professor E.F.C. Oertel of Anspach republished them and quickened the popular movement by unqualified commendation of water drinking as a remedy for all diseases.
In the 19th century, a popular revival followed the application of hydrotherapy around 1829, by Vincent Priessnitz, a peasant farmer in Gräfenberg, then part of the Austrian Empire. This revival was continued by others such as Captain R. T. Claridge, who introduced hydropathy into England in the early 1840s via writings and lectures, Sir William James Erasmus Wilson (1809-1884), James Manby Gully and Edward Johnson, and Sebastian Kneipp.
Other popular forms of water therapy included the sea-water treatment of Richard Russell, the contemporary version of which is thalassotherapy. This however was never known or marketed as water cure in the sense that became synonymous with hydropathy, now hydrotherapy. Rather, Russell's efforts have been credited with playing a role, along with broader social movements, in the populist "sea side mania of the second half of the eighteenth century", which itself was of some significance, with some activities reminiscent of modern-day of modern day spas. Indeed,
The spa movement itself became especially popular during the 19th century when health spas devoted to the "cure" were well-known medical institutions for the upper-class, especially those with lingering or chronic illness. Spas and other therapeutic baths are somewhat synonymous with the term balneotherapy . Many scientific studies into the effectiveness of balneotherapy are said to suffer from methodological flaws, admitting no firm conclusions.
Water cure practitioners ranged from qualified doctors to self-taught enthusiasts. For example, a famous water cure in Malvern, Worcestershire was begun in 1842 by Dr James Manby Gully using Malvern water. Famous patients of Gully included Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, Florence Nightingale, Lord Tennyson and Samuel Wilberforce. Conversely, Henry Wirz, the only Confederate soldier executed in the aftermath of the American Civil War for war crimes, was said to have been a self-taught water-cure specialist. After emigrating to America from Switzerland, he is reported to have worked as a water-cure practitioner throughout New England.