Sussanna Czeranko, ND, BBE
The longer you take this bath, the happier you feel. The feeling you get is angelic. I cannot explain it.
Benedict Lust, 1923b, p. 369
There is nothing that will take morbid encumbrances and systemic poisons out of the system as quickly and thoroughly as the Blood Wash.
Henry Lindlahr, 1923, p. 527
Eight hours under a shower! Yes, I know it sounds crazy; but try it; try it! The eight hours will pass like eight minutes, with the soft hands of the water massaging you till you are all but asleep.
Daniel Mann, 1923, p. 624
With current global water shortages, we cannot contemplate, let alone imagine, a prolonged hot shower of 8 hours as possible. We live in a fast world, and showers are like fast food at a drive-through: in and out and done. Yet, in the 1920s, when awareness of fresh water resources was not top of mind, the early NDs were introduced to a revolutionary therapy, which had “unbelievable claims made about the merits and virtues of the Biological Blood-Wash” (Hartmann, 1923b, p. 545) by all who used this therapy. I was reminded of those testimonials written a century ago in a recent conversation I had with Dr Betty Radelet, an Oregon ND who has been practicing for over a half century. She shared with me her own experience of the neglected blood wash. The subject arose when in that conversation I asked her which therapy did she find exceptional among all the therapies she had used over the years in her naturopathic practice? As I heard her story, I caught the gleam in her eye and listened to her firsthand account of the life-changing experience that she had taking and using this unique shower protocol.
I was motivated to do more than theoretically ponder the merits of this long-forgotten therapy. In fact, the blood wash as a topic continues to crop up in conversations I have had with others, such as Dr Braven Rayne, who requested me to present the topic to his students at Vancouver’s Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine (British Columbia, Canada).This article is for you, dear Dr Betty and dear Dr Braven, who inspire patients, students, and colleagues alike.
As we know, the healing process, unlike contemporary expectations for biomedicine, was often not quick with nature cure methods. Lust himself lamented:
Within the nature cure itself we often had the feeling, although it proves true in every case, that if the fundamental principles are applied, such as cleaning the body of all morbid retention, deposits of waste matter, mucus or other irritants, that without strict self-discipline, proper habits and the right environment in every day life, on the physical, mental and spiritual plan of being, these methods are also too slow, as it takes often months and years to get well, it is too slow for the fast living people of this country. (1923c, p. 421)
When the biological blood washing method first caught the attention of his colleagues, enthusiasm and interest surrounding this new therapy took the NDs virtually by storm. Many, including Bernarr MacFadden, believed that this new therapy was “the most important contribution to natural methods of treatment…since Vincent Priessnitz” (MacFadden, 1923, p. vii). It is important for us to recall, in the context of this exciting new therapy and accompanying protocols, that the use of warm water was a rarity as a naturopathic practice. Thus, when the blood wash treatment administered hot water, all the Kneipp rules that pervaded the water cure method in the first quarter century of the naturopathic movement seem to have been set aside, or adopted in parallel. In those heady days, Lust was interviewed about the blood wash method. He told the story of having been approached by a young man, Christos Parasco, whose account of how he discovered the method led to the further development and dissemination of the treatment. Mann recounts Lust’s comments about that beginning. He reproduced Lust’s words:
At first, I couldn’t believe it. Then, as I questioned him more particularly I began to feel that here was an idea which ought to be true, something that had about it an inherent logic, something that carried to a logical conclusion the very principles of the Water Cure which I have been teaching all my life. (Mann, 1923, p. 625)
Apparently, Parasco discovered the therapy completely by accident. He had been drafted into the armed forces and rejected because of a hernia and “didn’t want to have an operation.” Lust explained that one day Parasco “went to a gymnasium, for [he was] devoted to exercise. [He] stayed long under a hot shower because my side pained me. The heat felt good and I remained for two hours” (Mann, 1923, p. 625).
At the 27th Annual Convention of the American Naturopathic Association, the enthusiasm for this new therapy took center stage when Leonard Hartmann, ND, DC, read a paper on the blood wash. He raised the question, “H[ow] is this immense amount of vitality created within such a short time apparently in every one that takes this bath?” (Hartmann, 1923b, p. 547).
In his efforts to unravel the mystic qualities of the blood wash, Hartmann began with the physiological facts existing at the time:
The movement of the white blood corpuscles are increased by a rise in temperature up to 40° C. (104° F.) beyond which they cease, owing to coagulation of the cell. A low temperature also arrests the movements. Moisture and oxygen are necessary to their activity. (1923b, p. 546)
In Hartmann’s attempts to present the theory of how the blood wash worked, he shared his deduction that the “prolonged hot spray at a temperature above 104° F coagulated the white cell substance, forming evidently inosemia and hemostasis from this coagulation” (1923b, p. 546). Inosemia is an antiquated term defined as an “excess of fibrin in the blood” (Dorland, 1939, p. 458). The application of hot water would increase blood circulation.
Lindlahr explained how the blood wash works: “the continual dropping of hot water on the body draws the blood to the surface and discharges its impurities through the relaxed and open pores. The morbid excretions are then washed away by the constant flow of hot water” (1923, p. 528).
Another theory presented by Hartmann and Lust on the mechanics of “constant friction of the skin that results from the hour by hour impact of the water” (Hartmann, 1923b, p. 547) would result in the production of an electrical reaction. Lust described “the positive and negative elements in the hot water and the air” (1923c, p. 423) as the active constituents of the blood wash treatment. Today, we know that negative ions are generated during thunderstorms, which are responsible for making people feel good. Hartmann compared the blood wash and described the first glimmerings of negative ions that are produced:
[With] static electricity, similar to that of lightning, which is absorbed by the body, the water acting as a conductor. That this current is one of the most vitalizing and creative magnetic currents is fully shown when we watch the plants and flowers after a thunder shower or consider the stimulating creative effect upon cell life as exemplified on mushroom growing or milk as the result of a thunder shower. (1923b, p. 547)
For those who used the blood wash, tributes and acclamations proliferated abundantly. Dr Frischkorn, for example, praised the method: “Since installing the blood washing method I have the wonderful sensation of observing my patients return to health in such short time that it really seems like a miracle” (1924,
p. 318). The NDs who used the blood wash exalted its praises as “the great preventative of all disease” (Lust, 1923c, p. 422).
When first introduced to the idea, some early NDs countered with “Why take this blood wash?” Lust, the literature shows, was the first to sing the praises of this treatment. He reminded his contemporaries: “This bath is not for real sick people but to keep old people young, strong and fit” (Lust, 1923b, p. 370). Frischkorn, who also used the blood wash, added:
For many years I have specialized in chronic cases and have practiced in four different States of the Union to observe the various climates and their action upon morbid conditions, only to again come to the same old nature cure conclusion that [people] chronic catch their diseases with their feet right under the dining room table. (1924, p. 318)
Protocols grew more complex and refined with use. Lust, for example, guided other NDs by suggesting that the blood washing might include “an enema…and [that it not be taken] on a full stomach” (1923b, p. 369). Lust described the shower as follows: “The tingling sensation of the water striking you from a height of 8 to 10 feet gives a sensation of electricity and has the same effect on the system as massage and magnetism” (1923b, p. 369). The shower treated one body part at a time.
Over time, the height of the showerhead increased in position to “a height from 8 to 14 feet and…the hot water fall upon a cork matting…air mattress or just a tile floor” (Lust, 1923d, p. 524). Lust suggested how the patient should begin:
[S]tart by showering the lower parts of the body, the lower joints, the knees, then going upwards all over the body, front, back and sides, from the toes up to the top of the head, then the same showering all over again and again. (1923d, p. 524)
Typical of his remarkable guidelines for so many therapies and protocols, Lust added careful detail: “Forty percent of the showering more or less is to be applied upon and around the stomach and the intestines, also upon the sexual parts, the rectum and surroundings” (1923d, p. 524).
There is “not much showering to be applied to the chest and ears on the first three hours of the eight hour unit,” he cautioned (Lust, 1923d, pp. 524-525). Lust even went into detail about the temperature of the bathroom in which the blood washing is conducted:
The temperature of the bathroom must be mild and comfortable and it must be without vapors: the air must be pure and wholesome. During the treatment no food of any kind should be taken, but soft warm water as much as desired. (1923d, p. 525)
Lust provides postshower guidelines too. He explained, “After the shower no towel should be used to dry the body, but the water should be gently rubbed from the body with one’s hands until the body is well dry by the cool air” (Lust, 1923d,
p. 525). These procedures were to be followed by rest for 45 minutes, after which an enema of pure heated water was given. At the end of the day of the blood wash, patients were instructed to sleep in bed at night for no less than 10 hours, whether sleep comes or not (Lust, 1923d, p. 525).
Related to blood washing, Lust also recommended that patients “follow Ehret’s Mucusless Diet” (1923d, p. 525). So did Frischkorn, who gave an account of a retired minister, a useful case study:
All run down, with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. None of the medical specialists could offer any help. Every imaginable remedy was used in his behalf without the least sign of success…. I advised the Ehret Mucusless diet until he became stronger and used chiropractic adjustments. Then after five eight hour baths, he was able to preach, run a mile, eat good old nature cure meals and was completely made over with a full measure of vitality in every cell. (1924, p. 318)
A year before his death, Lindlahr personally experienced the blood wash. He “underwent the [blood wash] treatment for seven days” (Lindlahr, 1923, p. 527) and described his experience with enthusiasm: “Each day I lay under the hot water spray for about six hours in all. To cover only a small area of the body at a time, as recommended, seemed to me too slow and too much like play” (Lindlahr, 1923, p. 527). Lindlahr modified the instructions given him by Lust, and he “made the spray large enough to cover from one-half to two-thirds of [his] body at a time” (Lindlahr, 1923, p. 527). At the end of the first 2 days, Lindlahr stated: “In the evening I felt very much exhausted and spent the rest of the 24 hours resting and sleeping. Every succeeding day, however, I felt better and stronger” (1923, p. 527). He continued, “A day or two after the finish of the ordeal I felt like walking on air” (Lindlahr, 1923, p. 528).
Variations on the blood wash were adopted by practitioners to customize and improve compliance and results. Hartmann recommended “using salt water, which contains all the elements of our body, or the additional use of colored lights, that would intensify the vital magnetism…as advocated by Dr. Edwin Babbit [chromotherapist]” (Hartmann, 1923b, p. 549). Others, such as Dr Yergin, “did not limit himself to a mere eight hours, but prescribed 48 hours for real sick people” (Hartmann, 1923b, p. 549).
Although Lindlahr spoke highly of the blood wash, he did not feel that this treatment was a panacea or a cure-all. He recognized that the blood wash’s “principal value [lay] in stimulating the organs of depuration, especially the skin, and thereby facilitating the elimination of morbid encumbrances and systemic toxins” (Lindlahr, 1923,
p. 528). He cautioned:
There are many things which it cannot do. For instance, it cannot build up the blood…it cannot furnish the system with the necessary mineral elements and vitamines [sic]. This can only be done by proper adjustment of the diet. (Lindlahr, 1923, p. 528)
Essillyn Dale Nichols, editor of New Health and Success Magazine (Rock Island, Ill.), participated in the blood washing method and came out a strong advocate. Her ND, Dr Hartmann, conducted the therapy over the course of a year, and the changes were remarkable in the photographs that Hartmann published in his article in the Naturopath (Hartmann, 1923a, pp. 543-544). Nichols exclaimed, “The miracle has come! Today witnessed it. I feel recreated…reborn. I haven’t felt like this for years!”(Hartmann, 1923a, p. 544) Mrs Nichols was ecstatic with the blood wash. After her treatment, she was convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that the blood wash made it “possible for humanity to rejuvenate the body, regenerate the mind and awaken the soul” (Hartmann, 1923a, p. 544). The photographs showed a woman who looked younger, with no peripheral edema. She proclaimed, “I can do twice as much work [now] as I could do before beginning the experiment, and do it without tiring and without strain” (Hartmann, 1923a, p. 544).
Benedict Lust reports having experienced wonders after performing the blood wash. He marveled:
Since taking this bath my skin has changed. It was rough and dark and now you see it looks clearer and healthier and smoother. …Before I took this bath I could hardly walk up stairs without that dragged out feeling. Now I can go up and down a dozen times without feeling that sense of fatigue. (Lust, 1923b, p. 369)
Here too is yet another remarkable therapy from our roots and traditions that we might do well to revisit in our clinical repertoires.
Sussanna Czeranko, ND, BBE is a licensed naturopathic physician in Ontario and Oregon and is a faculty member working as the rare books curator at National College of Naturopathic Medicine (Portland, Oregon). She is currently compiling an 11-book series based on the journals published early in the last century by Benedict Lust. In addition to her work in balneotherapy, she is founder of the Breathing Academy, a training institute for physicians to incorporate a scientific model of breathing therapy called buteyko into their practice.
Dorland, W. A. N. (1939). American pocket medical dictionary. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company.
Frischkorn, C. S. (1924). The biological blood washing treatment. Naturopath, 29(4), 318-319.
Hartmann, L. J. (1923a). The “proof of the pudding” about the new biological blood wash. Naturopath, 28(10), 543-544.
Hartmann, L. J. (1923b). The limitations and possibilities of the new biological blood wash and regeneration shower bath. Naturopath, 28(10), 545-550.
Lindlahr, H. (1923). The new blood wash treatment. Naturopath, 28(10), 527-530.
Lust, B. (1923b). The blood-washing or regenerating shower bath. Naturopath, 28(8), 369-370.
Lust, B. (1923c). Additional fundamental facts on the biological blood-washing method. Naturopath, 28(9), 421-424.
Lust, B. (1923d). The blood-washing method. Naturopath, 28(10), 521-526.
MacFadden, B. (1923). Introduction (p. vii). In B. Lust, The fountain of youth: Curing by water. New York: MacFadden Publications, Inc.
Mann, D. (1923). The blood-washing method, Naturopath, 28(11), 621-634.