A Tour of Russian Medicine and Nutrition

In 1978 MOTHER EARTH NEWS took part in a tour of the USSR to observe Russian medicine and nutritional practices.

| September/October 1978

Celestial Seasonings (the herb company) and the Citizens Exchange Corps (a non-profit people-to-people program) recently sponsored a three-week, 3,000-mile study-tour of health and nutrition through the Soviet Union. The tour—in between airline travel to and from Russia itself—began in Moscow's Red Square and ended in the northern "white nights" of Leningrad. Most of the trip, however, was spent exploring "the garden of the centenarians" in the Transcaucasian republics of Azerbaijan and Georgia —the ancient, exotic region of the U.S.S.R. between the Caspian and Black Seas where so many people are rumored to live to such ripe old ages.

Sara Pacher, one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' helpers, went along on the excursion. She reports that, "In search of the ways of the 'long dwellers' of this beautiful, healthful section of the Soviet Union, we met with gerontologists, sociologists, physical therapists, nutritionists, and health spa and farm personnel. Finally, in the small, autonomous republic of Abkhazia on the Black Sea, we even spent some time with a handsome, active 114-year-old tea farm worker who still rides horses and dances in an internationally acclaimed folk group that is mostly made up of centenarians.

"We also discovered, along with modern Russian medicine, a marvelous reliance on the natural cures and techniques found in old Russian folk medicine. 'We first test to see if something works, and then we try to find out why it works,' we were told."

Sara further reports that in the U.S.S.R.—where health care is considered "the property of the people" and is free of charge—an ounce of prevention really is considered to be less expensive than a pound of cure.

"There is a strong emphasis on preventing a disease entirely or arresting it in its early stages," Sara says. "This might involve a four-week 'rest cure' in one of the country's garden-like health spas with a scientifically prescribed regimen of mineral and mud baths. Or electric, sonar, and light therapy. Or inhalation treatments of mineral waters and herbs. Or simply diet, exercise, and climate. The trade unions have found that a sanitarium set up in one of the health resorts can pay for itself in four years with increased worker production and lessened sick leave."

Sara's group also visited a city-run Zona Zdorovia (Health Zone) in Baku on the Caspian Sea. "It was particularly popular with retired people," she notes, "and featured early morning, outdoor exercises accompanied by accordion music, short sea voyages, hiking, and breathing the negatively charged ions of such 'curative' plants as rosemary, geraniums, and laurel. Massages and self-massages, music therapy (singing, to teach proper breathing techniques ... and listening to carefully selected music, to relieve depression and effect cures), and games—volleyball, table tennis, basketball, etc.—were also on the Health Zone program. 'Coordination,' we were told, 'is not lost through old age but through disuse.' "

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