Russia and the Environment

Traditional Medicine in Russia
Posted by: , December 15, 2011, 8:57 pm
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What is Traditional Medicine?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines traditional medicine as, “the sum total of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical and mental illness.”  Any form of folkloric or alternative medicine will be categorized as a facet of traditional medicine in this paper, and
Russia has a very active history of practicing this sort of complementary healthcare (World Health Organization).

Herbal components common in traditional medicine

The Origins of Traditional Medicine in Russia

Russia’s treatment methods are extremely diverse because of the wide variety of different ethnicities that inhabit the country.  Although a vast
majority of its citizens reside in the urban centers in the Western area, a myriad of minority factions live throughout the rest of the country that have been there almost as long as the duration of human existence.  These groups include the tartars in the Volga region, the people living in the
North Caucus Mountains, Siberian groups, and citizens of what is now the Ukraine and Belarus (  This range of territories and different peoples in what is now Russia experienced a significant disparity in climate and environment.  Convalescents of different regions required specific care unique to the conditions in which they were living.  These different groups developed natural remedies through systematic experimentation of the healing properties of plants, which was perpetuated by the abundance of different plant species in Russia.  Their research began to yield beneficial results, and this knowledge was passed down throughout
generations to create the foundation of folk medicine. (World Health Organization)

Various Methods of Traditional Medicine

Different modes of practicing traditional medicine have grown expansive in Russia.  Although it has such rich natural resources ideal for making herbal remedies and a strong foundation for traditional medicine, it has also borrowed techniques from other cultures.  Russian imperialism and religious propagation throughout Asia and Europe exposed practitioners to new approaches to medicine (  The ancient practice of acupuncture, which is characterized by stimulating specific regions of the body through the insertion of a needle, came to Russia from China.  Allegedly this method developed when a soldier complained of a stiff shoulder, but could not find a cure to alleviate his pain.  It wasn’t until he was pierced by an arrow in his leg that the pain subsided and the soldier quickly explained what happened to a physician, who began experimenting with the technique. (

Acupuncture disseminated throughout Asia as traveling scholars and physicians made their way throughout the continent.  India
included it in its own traditional medicine techniques, which is collectively known as Ayurveda.  Ayurveda also made its way to Russia through the spread of Buddhism.  It is founded on the tenants of balance and harmony between three elements, or humors: wind (air and space), bile (water and fire), and phlegm (water and earth).  According to Ayurveda, which has a strong Buddhist foundation, these three humors must be in perfect balance in order to be in perfect health.  In order to achieve this balance, Ayurveda preaches the practices of yoga, exercise, and meditation.  It also stresses the importance of good hygiene, and relies on plant based medicine mixed with minerals or metals.  However, the safety of the metal addition to herbal remedies has been called to attention, as heavy metal poisoning is very deleterious.  The validity of this concern has not been
definitely confirmed. (

Another common practice in Russia is cupping.  It is an ancient form of bloodletting that has been seen all over the world.  A practitioner makes an incision on the patient and places a cup over the wound, which creates enough pressure to extract blood.  In Russia, it was believed that the cold and dampness could make one ill, and therefore they practiced a modified version of this method. They would heat up glass cups before placing it on the individual, andmove it in a circular motion in order to stimulate circulation in the body.  It is believed to cure a range of ailments, including colds, muscle spasms, the flu, bronchitis, and even menstrual cramps (


The Importance of Traditional Medicine

Russia’s prevalent use of traditional medicine as a means of healthcare has been particularly helpful given the decline in their medical systems following the fall of the Soviet Union.  The country had always taken healthcare very seriously, and medical attention was readily available to its
citizens essentially free of cost.  However, the system was underfunded and unable to maintain supplies.  As a result, many hospitals
were ill equipped and lacked basic necessities, such as running water.  By the early 1990s, infant and female mortality had increased, as well as the prevalence of infectious diseases, and the life expectancy decreased.  Environmental factors such as air pollution and contamination contributed to the high risk of becoming ill, and the over-crowded conditions led to the propagation of diseases.  Preventable diseases were infecting and
killing people at epidemic levels, and vaccinations were limited.  However, even if there had been an abundance of inoculations, many citizens refused to take them on the idea that they only exacerbated one’s poor health. (

Russian citizens began taking command of their own health through traditional medicine, and even grow their own remedies in the gardens of their dachas.   The Russian government legalized the use of complementary forms of treatment methods, and the Ministry of Health and Social Development recognized a few of these techniques as legitimate medical practices.  Not all forms of traditional medicine will be recongized, despite their legality, because medical science is rooted in standardization, so as to use treatments that have a universal application that any trained physician can administer.  However, traditional medicine is much more individual, in terms of both the patient and the practitioner.  The two medical philosophies are practiced in conjuction in Russia, which has one of the highest amounts of practicing traditional medicine doctors in the world.

Work Cited




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