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Mustard plasters, cans, birch sap - which of these really works?
Mustard plasters, cans, birch sap - which of these really works?

Soviet times are over, but many elements of the everyday life of this era are still with us. People continue to buy Kuznetsov's iplikators, go to physiotherapy and get hardened. Not all of the Soviet habits are truly healthy, but some are worth picking up on.


By design, public baths in the Soviet Union had a purely functional significance: there was not enough hot water in overcrowded apartment buildings, and the rapidly growing population of cities had to wash somewhere. But city baths also became a place for communication, and the steam room has always been associated with a healing effect. The connection between baths and health is, of course, older than the Soviet "bath complexes".

Scientists to this day continue to study how the body is affected by short-term exposure to a room with high temperatures and humid air. A well-known Finnish study has shown that regular sauna use is associated with a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease: the more you bathe, the lower the risks.

It is assumed that the heat in the bath has a beneficial effect on the inner walls of blood vessels, reducing their rigidity and normalizing blood pressure. The sauna also has additional advantages: for example, men who frequent the sauna are less likely to develop dementia. A review of 40 scientific studies lists other effects, up to and including lowering cholesterol; however, these were studies in small groups.

Birch juice

Hannu / Wikimedia / public domain

One of the most mysterious Soviet products. He unexpectedly appeared on store shelves and just as rapidly disappeared in the last years of the USSR. An almost colorless, sweet, sour liquid sold in three-liter cans was cheaper than any other juice. The drink was based on real birch sap, which can be collected in spring by making an incision in the trunk of a tree. For taste, sugar and citric acid were added to it.

In folk medicine, birch sap was used as a diuretic and fortifying agent, they are recommended to wipe the skin with irritation and even wash their hair. In scientific archives, you can find many works on the composition of birch sap and its potential effect on the body. Most of them were made by scientists from Poland and the Baltic states - regions where, as in Russia, there is a tradition of collecting birch sap. In one of the publications, for example, it is said that the content of minerals in birch sap is too low in comparison with the daily needs of a person.

All this does not prevent modern companies from releasing birch sap and selling it as a health drink.

Fish fat

In the USSR, it was given in schools and kindergartens and was prescribed for any reason in order to make up for the lack of unsaturated fatty acids and vitamins A and D in the diet. As a result, almost every Soviet child has traumatic memories of this. Film director Dunya Smirnova wrote in the book "From the Frost":

True, in 1970, the use of fish oil for medical purposes was suddenly banned: it turned out that Soviet enterprises were producing a low-quality supplement with a large amount of toxic substances. He returned to the shelves only in 1997.

While the Soviet authorities banned fish oil, it gained popularity in other countries. Danish chemist Hans Olaf Bang noted that Greenlandic Eskimos rarely suffer from cardiovascular diseases. Their blood tests showed high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.So fish oil - often in a more pleasant form of synthesized omega-3 supplements - has gained a reputation as a miracle cure for heart health. True, the authors of a large Cocrane review on the topic concluded that omega-3s from fish or supplements for the prevention or treatment of cardiovascular disease are useless. So far, no one has proven the opposite.



Many are sure that hematogen is a Soviet invention, but in fact, its prototype was invented by the doctor Adolf Friedrich Gommel in 1890 in Switzerland. Then he was a mixture of cow blood and egg yolks, which was designed to fight anemia. She quickly became popular in many countries, including the Russian Empire.

But a truly familiar element of the diet, hematogen became in the 1940s, when Soviet factories began to make it in the form of sweet bars. To do this, the blood of pigs and cows was dried (the albumin protein saturated with iron remained intact), ground it and added sugar, molasses, condensed milk and other ingredients. To combat anemia, it was recommended that you eat one or two bars three times a day. The demand for hematogen was growing, but, probably, it was not so much about its medical properties, but about the absence and high cost of sweets in stores.

Modern hematogen is also prepared using animal blood, but not whole, but processed in the laboratory. This makes the bars safer since the risk of transmission of infections is eliminated. But despite the safety of the composition, manufacturers do not recommend eating it more often than once a day for 4-8 weeks, otherwise the risk of an excess of iron increases.

And yet, hematogen cannot be considered an effective remedy for anemia: the bar contains only about one tenth of the amount of iron contained in a tablet of a modern iron-containing preparation. Also, do not forget about another drawback of hematogen - this is sugar: one bar consists of almost 80% carbohydrates.



The famous Cao Sao vàng ointment was developed by Vietnamese doctors in 1954. It included menthol, eucalyptus oil, camphor, clove oil and other ingredients long used in Vietnamese traditional medicine. The ointment hit the Soviet market in 1975, it was given the name "Golden Star", which quickly turned into "Star".

Asterisk was a versatile remedy for colds, headaches, muscle pains, boils and much more. It was necessary to apply it with massage movements directly to the sore spot - this is the Soviet method of application, at home it was recommended to apply it to acupuncture points.

There are no large and reliable studies on the effectiveness of the balm yet, but some small works find that it helps with headaches in about the same way as paracetamol [1, 2]. There is also a study that tested the effectiveness of the ointment for osteoarthritis of the knee joints. It did not help relieve pain, but it did relieve it: the active ingredients fight swelling and reduce sensitivity. As for the safety of Zvezdochka and similar ointments, a meta-analysis of 12 studies has shown that it should be avoided by children, pregnant women, lactating mothers and allergy sufferers. Everyone else should use the balm only occasionally and in small quantities, since camphor is toxic.


Most likely, auto-training is known to you from the movie "The Most Charming and Attractive": its heroine, using very original methods, is trying to establish her personal life. Including many times repeats in front of the mirror: “I am the most charming and attractive. Men like me terribly. They are just crazy about me. " In fact, this is not an auto-training, but an affirmation: the regular repetition of a positive statement about yourself to increase self-esteem and motivation.

The auto-training technique is somewhat more complicated.You really need to repeat the phrases, but mentally: "My right hand is heavy," "My right hand is warm," "My heartbeat is calm and even," and so on. In parallel, you need to concentrate on internal sensations and relax your muscles. (Simple instruction.) The goal is to train the parasympathetic nervous system through regular self-hypnosis and muscle relaxation so as to neutralize the negative effects of stress. Research has shown that this is truly an effective way to reduce anxiety [1, 2].

In general, auto-training resembles progressive muscle relaxation, which is more popular today, during which a person alternately strains and relaxes his muscles.

Tea mushroom


Kombucha in beautiful cans is the same tea and mushroom drink that was popular in the late USSR. The production process looks something like this. First, tea is brewed, sugar is added, cooled and the kombucha is placed in the resulting solution. Then the mixture is poured into a sterile container and covered with a cloth so that insects do not get inside. After 10-14 days of fermentation at room temperature, a new culture forms on the surface. It is removed, and the tea is filtered, bottled and left to ferment for a few more days or stored in the refrigerator (about 4 ℃).

Kombucha has been credited with a variety of health benefits: supposedly helping to avoid overeating, treating hangovers, diabetes, arthritis, and even cancer. There is no evidence. The most robust idea seems to be about the benefits for the microbiome. Kombuche, like other fermented foods, contains live bacteria that are believed to improve the intestinal microflora. Manufacturers, on the other hand, usually position it as a healthy alternative to sugary drinks: most of the sugar is fermented, and there is usually little alcohol, similar to kvass.

However, there have been cases of kombucha causing poisoning. It is assumed that the fermentation process was disrupted at home and the acidity was too high or pathogenic microorganisms got into the container. Because of these risks, it is not recommended for children under four years old, pregnant and lactating women, and people with weakened immune systems.

Medical banks


Soviet doctors used them for acute respiratory diseases, pneumonia and bronchitis. The therapy with cans looks something like this: they are quickly heated with fire from the inside and placed on the patient's back for several minutes. As the air in the jar cools down, its volume decreases and the skin begins to draw inward. This causes blood flow to be strong enough to cause bruising. You may ask: how can such manipulations help with colds? Nobody knows: this method didn't even need a theoretical foundation to become very popular.

With the collapse of the USSR, banks were forgotten. But in the 2010s, they suddenly became popular in the West, mostly among alternative medicine aficionados. Now they are trying to treat muscle pains, skin diseases, arthritis, migraines, increase immunity and lower cholesterol. But studies that have confirmed at least some effectiveness of cans have a low or very low level of evidence [1, 2, 3].

Mustard plasters

Another widely used remedy in the USSR for ARVI, pain in muscles and joints were mustard plasters - sheets of thin paper with a layer of mustard seed paste. They are supposed to be moistened with hot water and glued to the skin on the chest or back for 10 minutes: the essential oils contained in mustard will warm up and begin to irritate, provoking a rush of blood.

There are currently no serious studies showing that mustard plasters can help relieve pain or cold symptoms. There are, however, studies showing that sinigrin contained in mustard has antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal effects, but these data need to be verified. Moreover, mustard plasters are not harmless: they can provoke irritation and burns [1, 2].They are contraindicated for people with skin diseases.

Hardening Porfiry Ivanov

As the legend says, an illiterate native of a poor mining family, Porfiry Ivanov, created his own health system back in the 1930s, when he was diagnosed with some kind of cancer. In those years, this meant one thing: Ivanov was waiting for a slow and painful extinction. He was not ready for this and therefore decided to commit suicide: he went out practically naked into the street in a severe frost to freeze to death. But as a result, he not only remained safe and sound, but, according to the same legend, was able to completely recover from cancer.

It was then that Ivanov realized that natural forces, in particular cold, have healing powers. You need to regularly expose yourself to them in order to live long and stay healthy. How exactly this should be done, Ivanov showed by his example: in summer and winter (even in extreme cold), he walked in the same shorts and barefoot, regularly and for a long time starved, bathed twice a day in natural reservoirs - and called it hardening. Ivanov advised those who are not ready for such radical measures at least to douse themselves with cold water, wipe themselves off with snow and walk on it without shoes, and be in nature regularly.

Throughout the USSR, Porfiry Ivanov became popular only at the end of his life - in the 1980s, when an interest in non-traditional methods of treatment and various spiritual practices arose in a society tired of officialdom. Of course, then no scientific research on the effectiveness of its hardening methods was carried out. But, according to modern data, such procedures, if not fanatically carried away by them, can benefit the body.

Bathing in cold water, according to the results of some studies, can reduce muscle pain [1, 2, 3], reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety [1, 2], enhance the immune response [1, 2] and even teach the body to react more calmly to changes temperature with various ARVI, due to which the disease will be more easily tolerated. But it is worth remembering that the sharp effect of low temperatures is stress for the cardiovascular system, therefore, people with cardiac problems, before starting hardening, need to consult a doctor.

Iplikator Kuznetsova

Andshel / Wikimedia / (CC BY-SA 3.0)

An iplikator stands for "needle applicator" - a flexible belt, a piece of dense fabric or plastic with rather sharp spikes. It was invented in 1979 by Ivan Kuznetsov, a music teacher from Chelyabinsk, who was inspired by a book on Chinese medicine. It talked about reflexology - a method that assumes that a large number of biologically active points are located on the human body, acting on which can improve the work of any internal organ. That, as Kuznetsov believed, his iplikator does if he regularly walks on it or applies to different parts of the body.

The inventor claimed that he himself was thus able to fully recover from a chemical burn of the lungs. But he insisted that the field of application of iplikator is much wider: it can eliminate pain, treat disorders of the nervous system, migraines, improve immunity and generally heal the body. Modern science does not agree with this. Systematic reviews of scientific works do not confirm the effectiveness of reflexology [1, 2].

Soviet weight

Various versions of this projectile have been used for strength exercises, starting from ancient times around the world - from Shaolin monasteries to Scotland, but the kettlebell reached its peak in popularity in the Soviet Union, where kettlebell lifting not only received official status for the first time (in 1985), but also became truly folk - as an affordable alternative to gyms.

The kettlebells were inexpensive, stored compactly and did not require a special room for training. It was Soviet coaches and athletes who transported the kettlebell across the Atlantic in the 1990s and breathed new life into it.In the United States, the kettlebell acquired an elite image and entered the training programs of celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston or Matthew McConaughey.

The greatest contribution to the creation of the modern kettlebell cult was made by a native of Belarus, “the former trainer of the Soviet special forces” Pavel Tsatsulin, who created the international network of StrongFirst fitness clubs with an emphasis on kettlebell lifting. With the rise in popularity of kettlebells, there has been an increase in the number of studies that have confirmed some of its benefits. For example, a kettlebell compares favorably with simulators in that exercises with it are performed while standing and therefore include the main muscle groups in the work.

In addition, there is evidence that the kettlebell can help improve dynamic balance, strength, endurance, and aerobic activity. And yet - the kettlebell has individuality. Pavel Tsatsulin calls her "Harley-Davidson in the world of power projectiles." And many athletes even give their weights names.

Industrial gymnastics

Legendary radio chargers were part of Soviet life. Every weekday at 11 o'clock in the morning, the cheerful voice of the announcer was heard from all the radios, commanding to stand up straight - "heels together, toes apart" - and get ready for gymnastics. The set of exercises was simple (stretching, bending, turning, squatting) and ended with jumping on the spot. All this was accompanied by piano accompaniment and the countdown: "One-two-three-four!" You can listen to how it was here - the recording was made in 1953, when charging had not yet become "production".

At the enterprises, the obligatory 10-minute break for gymnastics was introduced after three years. Warm-ups were performed next to the machine or table, right in work clothes - from overalls to white coats.

The last issue of Industrial Gymnastics was aired in 1991. But the idea did not die and even developed: the modern recommended industrial gymnastics complexes on the website of the Ministry of Sports provide for not one break, but several warm-ups of different duration during the working day. This approach is in better agreement with research findings that show that exercise alone cannot compensate for prolonged immobility.

Exposure to electricity


Treatment with electricity was officially part of the arsenal of Soviet physiotherapy. Now this is the name given to medical and social assistance to people who, due to injury or illness, are limited in mobility. But then, physiotherapy meant the effect on the body with the help of heat, cold, light, steam, magnetic field and other forces of nature. All these procedures were united by the fact that there was no evidence base under them. But the strange devices that were used for them could have decorated a steampunk movie. One of the most common was electrophoresis.

In the classical form, electrophoresis was a box with a regulator and indicator of the current strength and electrodes on the wires. The electrodes were wrapped in a cloth moistened with a medicinal solution and applied to the skin. After that, they were supplied with a current of 5 mA (if you are a child) or 12 mA (if an adult). Electrophoresis was prescribed for inflammation in the nasopharynx, diseases of the stomach and intestines, disorders of the musculoskeletal system, and simply to "stimulate the immune system."

The idea itself is based on the effect of electrolytic dissociation: under the action of a current, a chemical in an aqueous solution decomposes into ions - charged particles that can penetrate deeply into depressions and pores on the surface of various materials. It was believed that thanks to electricity, the medicine also penetrates under the skin - directly into the inflammation focus.

The problem is that this method of targeted delivery does not work with the human body - the skin barrier prevents penetration. But even if a small part of the drug penetrates through the lesions on the skin, it immediately enters the capillaries and will be carried away from the site of exposure into the systemic circulation.The only more or less proven effect of electrophoresis is the ability to temporarily relieve acute pain. Although the procedure was considered painless, in fact, the current sometimes perceptibly pinched and even burned to redness - these sensations distracted from the pain.

Iodine mesh

If there were no cans, mustard plasters or a compress at hand, a vial with a 5% alcohol solution of iodine was removed from the first-aid kit, a match wrapped in cotton wool was dipped into it, and a brownish mesh was drawn on the back, chest or feet. It was believed that this ritual helps not only with acute respiratory viral infections, rhinitis and bronchitis, but also with injuries, arthrosis and much more.

Why iodine and why mesh? This is usually explained as follows. Firstly, iodine is supposedly capable of penetrating deep into tissues through the skin and stopping pathological processes. Secondly, thanks to the application in the form of a grid, it separates the masses of dangerous bacteria into isolated cells, disrupting their communication. Neither one nor the other has any scientific confirmation.

Also, some have used an iodine grid to detect iodine deficiency in the body. It was believed that if the iodine mesh on the skin fades in 30 minutes, it means that you do not have enough iodine. In fact, the rate at which the stripes fade depends only on how quickly the alcohol solution evaporates from the skin surface. The body receives iodine from food, and its deficiency can only be detected in urine analysis, because it is excreted through the kidneys.

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