The Seawater Cure: How the French Slim Down
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The Seawater Cure: How the French Slim Down

A food-and-wine writer from the U.S. describes his annual pilgrimage to the Normandy Coast for thalassotherapy—a round of treatments that’s proven to be an antidote for his occupational overindulgence.

By ALEXANDER LOBRANO
Fri, Feb 3, 2023 8:56amGrey Clock 4 min

AS A food-and-travel writer who lives in France, I face occupational hazards other people might envy: Think white Burgundies, foie gras, butter, cream and the world’s best cheeses. It’s a constant battle to avoid ending up with the silhouette of a pear.

That’s why in the years since I moved to Paris in 1986, I’ve become a fan of thalassotherapy, taking dozens of “cures” at some of the 50-odd thalassotherapy centres along the Atlantic and Mediterranean littorals of France. The word derives from the Greek words “thalassa” (sea) and “therapeia” (to nurse or cure) and refers to a series of treatments—heated seawater baths, stimulating jet showers and seaweed wraps—and exercise such as aqua gym (in-water calisthenics).

While these cures alleviate the fatigue and sluggishness I feel after months of late-night dinners and deadline pressure, I’ve found that a weeklong thalassotherapy circuit that includes low-calorie meals also contributes to a healthier, slimmer, better-toned me. Apparently, Plato believed “the sea cures all human ailments,” but my goal is simply to retreat, relax and, at the end, be able to tighten my belt to its customary notch.

A thalassotherapy experience can be completed in as little time as a weekend, but a typical stay lasts 5-7 days. A 6-day signature cure with room and board and four treatments a day costs about $1,580 at Thalazur in Cabourg, a well-mannered Belle Époque seaside resort in Normandy. It was there I booked my most recent extended cure in February, 2020.

I’d heard of Cabourg as a favourite escape of Marcel Proust, who stayed at the Grand Hôtel and, by his account, would gaze at the flinty waves of the English Channel while enjoying his favourite sole Normande (sole poached in cider with a rich cream sauce garnished with button mushrooms, shrimp and mussels).

The centre is a brisk 10-minute walk from the heart of Cabourg with its fan-shaped street plan spreading out from the casino and the Grand Hôtel. Even if my low-calorie regimen barred me from indulging in sole Normande, I never felt gastronomically deprived as I enjoyed a healthy menu with tasty choices such as freshly shucked Norman oysters and steamed salmon with spinach.

My pleasantly monastic existence found me donning a terry cloth bathrobe and slippers every morning and reporting for my daily program of five treatments. Administered by cheerful spa attendants in individual white-tiled spa cabins, these averaged 25 minutes each. While the seaweed jet baths were blissfully relaxing, the high-velocity jet showers, an attempt to pummel the cellulite out of you and improve circulation, were more of a “grin and bear it” prospect.

I can’t pretend I loved the wraps either: Slathered in puréed seaweed, swathed in huge sheets of plastic film and then covered with a heated blanket, I felt like I was being mummified. This detoxification process promises to rid you of “water weight,” and your parched skin receives a good dose of seaweed’s moisturising oligo elements, but I inevitably developed an itch somewhere I couldn’t scratch. Still, when the slick plastic was stripped away and I could shower, I felt hugely invigorated.

More alarming, I also endured cryotherapy. The attendants locked me in a capsule of dry air cooled to -230 degrees Fahrenheit for three minutes, an experience meant to improve circulation and increase production of cortisol, collagen, endorphins and adrenaline. The adrenaline rush, at least, was real; it was a profound relief to exit my capsule after being subjected to a blast of Arctic chill while wearing nothing more than black paper spa panties.

These morning regimens induced a languorous exhaustion, so I inevitably followed up the light lunch with a nap in the afternoon. Then, refreshed, I took long walks on the beach or bicycled along the promenade in front of the hotel.

Memories of my stay—and the 7 pounds I dropped there—prompted me to test the waters again last winter. I booked a 1-night, 2-day weekend sampler at the Thalazur in Port Camargue on the Mediterranean, an hour from my house.

This centre was smaller but also had lovely sea-views, plus my stylish sea-shack style room came with a large private balcony. The three treatments a day were excellent, too; the cost, about $178, was worth it for the belt-tightening.

When, on the Monday after my return home, I went to the single-window post office in my village, the post mistress raised her eyebrows theatrically. “Bonjour!” she said with a grin. “What happened!? You look great!” I went for a weekend of thalassotherapy, I told her. “Ah, voilà! La Thalasso fait toujours du bien,” she purred.

She was right, of course. I look forward to a week-long saltwater wallow this winter, maybe in Bandol with its views of the Mediterranean, or at the elegant new Relais Thalasso in the seaside town of Pornichet on the sunny Atlantic coast in the Loire region. Unlike at other centers, where you traipse about between treatments, the Relais Thalasso crew stash you in a spacious private suite with a comfy lounge area, the better to nap before another go-round.

Water, Water, Everywhere

France pioneered thalassotherapy but you can find excellent centers in other countries, too

La Perla, Spain

For the uninitiated, La Perla, a stylish centre in San Sebastián in the Spanish Basque Country, is a great place to sample thalassotherapy before committing to a full-on cure. Originally established by Spain’s Queen Maria Cristina, when she was queen from 1829-1833, at the royal family’s summer house here, the spa was rebuilt in 1912 on a site overlooking La Concha, a crescent-shaped beach. A 5-hour day pass gives you access to a hydrotherapy pool, water beds, marine steam baths and an in-water exercise circuit. Another option includes a massage and lunch in the spa’s restaurant overlooking the sea. From $49 for a 5-hour day pass.

Vilalara Longevity Thalassa and Medical Spa, Portugal

Vilalara Longevity Thalassa and Medical Spa in Lagoa, a city in Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region, is set in lush gardens overlooking the Atlantic. It has two seawater pools, 20 treatment cabins and a variety of cures, including a 5-night detoxification program with 2 thalassotherapy sessions per night, lymphatic drainage massages, access to thalasso pools and a consultation with a nutritionist to personalise a tasty low-calorie meal plan or a liquid diet of anti-inflammatory shakes, juices and soups. From about $3,899.

Divani Apollon Palace and Thalasso, Greece

Situated on the Athenian Riviera, this world-class spa in the Divani Apollon Palace and Thalasso outside of Athens boasts the largest thalassotherapy pool in Greece with 16 different water jet areas in its expanse. The X factor at this family-run beach-front property with 25 treatment rooms is its healthy low-calorie menu created by the hotel’s chef and in-house dietician. Appetising proof that shedding pounds needn’t mean privation: the zucchini-crust Greek pizza with anthotryo (fresh cheese), cherry tomatoes, oregano and EVOO. From about $1,747 for a 3-day stay.

The Wall Street Journal is not compensated by retailers listed in its articles as outlets for products. Listed retailers frequently are not the sole retail outlets.



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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

By DEMETRIA GALLEGOS
Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).

Postmortem

People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.

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