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a pseudoscientific method of treating disease by the use of large quantities of water both internally and externally
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the external application of water with the aim of curing or preventing disease.

The first mention of hydropathy is found in the Hindu Vedas (1500 B.C.). The ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Hebrews use fresh and mineral water for hygienic and curative purposes. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates perfected the technique of hydropathy; later hydropathy was adopted by Rome and gradually spread to other countries. The scientific formulation of hydropathy dates from the 19th century. Such Russian physicians as A. Nikitin (1825) and B. Grzhimailo (1859) studied the physiological effects of hydropathy on the organism.

Water, which is characterized by high heat capacity, heat conductivity, and convection and which easily dissolves various salts and gases, causes temperature, mechanical (the water pressure on the patient’s body), and chemical effects that stimulate nerve receptors (exteroceptors) located in the skin when it comes in contact with an organism. With the application of mineral water, volatile gaseous substances (carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and others), penetrating into the organism via the skin and respiratory tracts, stimulate nerve receptors located in the walls of vessels and interior organs (interoceptors). The major stimulus in hydropathy is temperature, and the greater the difference between the temperature of the water and the temperature of the skin the greater its effect. Hydropathic treatment is carried out in cold (below 20° C), cool (21-33° C), lukewarm (34-36° C), warm (37-39° C), and hot (40° C and higher) temperatures.

Under the influence of hydropathy, biologically active substances of the histamine type are formed in the organism. The complex of the effects of all stimuli is passed to the central nervous system and reflexively produces a complicated reaction that includes reactions of the cardiovascular, nervous, endocrine, and motor systems, as well as exchanges of temperature and substances. Complex biological, biochemical, and biophysical processes are initiated in the organism, thus making possible the normalization of the functions disrupted by disease and the completion of adaptation, training, and strengthening of the organism. A great variety of types of general (emersion of the whole body in water) and localized (soaking of hands or feet) hydropathic treatments (douche, sponging, moist wrapping, compresses, showers, baths, swimming in natural and artificial pools, enemas) permit their use in the treatment of the most varied diseases— cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, gynecological, pediatric, dermatologic, and metabolic, for example. Cold and cool treatments are used as a general means of toning-up in order to stimulate the activity of the nervous and cardiovascular systems and to increase metabolism in cases of obesity (by increasing the breakdown of fats and carbohydrates) for the purpose of training and strengthening the organism. Warm water is used to cure chronic inflammatory diseases, diseases of the locomotive apparatus, the peripheral nervous system (radiculitis, neuritis, neuralgia, plexitis), certain intoxications, and so on. Lukewarm water is used in the treatment of increased excitability of the nervous and cardiovascular systems, disorders of the vascular tone, skin pruritis, and so on. Hot water is used for disorders of individual types of exchange (by increasing the breakdown of proteins) and also for certain diseases of the kidneys.

In Japan, short hot treatments are used for training and tempering the body. The reaction of the organism to the treatment depends on the nature of the treatment, on the initial functional state of the organism, and on the mobility and equilibrium of the excitatory-inhibitory processes in the brain cortex and in the subcortical formations. Water cures cannot be applied in cases of severe inflammation, severe atherosclerosis and hypertonic disease, decompensation of the cardiovascular activity, severe disorders of the coronary circulation brought on by stroke, malignant neoplasm, certain benign tumors, hemorrhages, infectious diseases, and certain skin diseases.


Mugdusiev, I. P. Vodolechenie. Moscow, 1951.
Syroechkovskaia, M. N. Vodolechenie. Moscow, 1968. (Bibliography.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The system of internal and external use of water in attempting to cure disease.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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