Evidence and ideology as a rationale for light-therapy in Russia: from the Soviet Union to the present day.

Charlotte Kühlbrandt, Martin McKee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Light therapy is still used to treat a number of common diseases in Russia. The practice is firmly anchored in history: Soviet clinical practice was divorced from the emerging field of evidence-based medicine. Medical researchers were cut off from international medical research and scientific literature, with much Soviet scientific activity based on a particular socialist ideology. In this study, the use of light therapy serves as a case study to explore tensions between international evidence-based medicine and practices developed in isolation under the Soviet Union, the legacy of which is to the detriment of many patients today. We used four different search methods to uncover scientific and grey literature, both historical and contemporary. We assessed the changing frequency of publications over time and contrasted the volume of literature on light therapy with more orthodox treatments such as statins and painkillers. Our search found an increasing number and comparatively large body of scientific publications on light therapy in the Russian language, and many publications emanating from prestigious Russian institutions. Combined with our analysis of the historical literature and our appraisal of 22 full text articles, this leads us to suggest that light therapy entered mainstream Soviet medical practice before the Stalinist period and still occupies an important position in contemporary Russian clinical practice. We propose that this outdated treatment survives in Russia in part due to the political, economic and social forces that helped to popularize it during Soviet times, and by the seeming justification offered by poorly executed studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2042533313476697
JournalJRSM Short Reports
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


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