Weak Chest? Hung Over? Try Horse Milk

LOLA, Southern Russia -- It's cloudy, it stinks, and it comes out of the wrong end of a horse. But it sure tastes good the morning after.


For curing a hangover, doctors and heavy drinkers alike swear by kumys, a fermented horse milk drink that's nearly as strong as beer and is drunk in parts of Central Asia and southern Russia.


Here in Lola, reverence for the drink has been taken one step further: It's used as a cure for tuberculosis in the Lola Tuberculosis Clinic, the largest in Kalmykia and the only one in Russia that relies exclusively on kumys for its treatment.


"Aside from a vaccine, kumys is the best thing for tuberculosis patients," said Nadezhda Romanova, who is chief nurse to the clinic's 150 patients. "It strengthens the constitution better than any food or intravenous solution. It's vitamin- and mineral-rich, and patients gain lost weight with great speed."


Located in a tiny village about 64 kilometers from the Kalmyk capital Elista, the Lola clinic is set in a small wooded copse in the middle of the steppe that provides the only shade for miles around. Its next-door neighbor is a horse ranch, which provides a daily supply of mare's milk that the clinic then processes into lightly alcoholic kumys by heating and fermenting it.


The kumys-processing station is the social center of the clinic. Romanova's patients file in to the little hut every morning, chat with the nurses, take on average two 1-liter bottles of kumys, and then walk away into the shade of the copse to play cards or read.


Romanova's patients are mainly made up of three groups -- war refugees (from is where kumys comes in.


Malina, 17, is a Chechen refugee who became infected while on the road to Kalmykia through Ingushetia last year.


She never drank kumys before becoming infected with tuberculosis; she thought it was "revolting."


Now, she is frequently scolded by Romanova for taking too much kumys with her. "I had lost a lot of weight while I was sick, and was down to under 50 kilograms," she said. "But now I'm back to about 55 kilos and I feel very good. I may not be able to go home soon, but at least I'm getting healthy. Plus, I'm starting to like the taste."


Malina isn't the only one.


The Lola horse farm has other customers for kumys -- mainly heavy drinkers in Elista who buy the drink at the city's central bazaar.


Minke Naumov, 59, owner of a bakery in Elista, bought 30 bottles of kumys for his daughter's upcoming wedding. He likes the taste, but he knows that other people at the wedding will drink it for other reasons.


"You don't feel so sick the day after drinking if you drink kumys with liquor or beer," he said. "People drink kumys, then they feel like they can drink more liquor and have a better time."


Romanova looked at kumys' anti-hangover powers from a medical perspective.


"It's long been understood that kumys is the best thing for a hangover," she said. "It's slightly alcoholic, so it relaxes, but more importantly, it adds vitamins and minerals to the blood stream fast. A lot of my patients are former alcoholics, and they swear by it."