Demand rises for nutritional supplements and therapeutic massages in North Korea

Photo of a foot massager sold in North Korea’s markets. Image: Daily NK

There has been a noticeable spike in demand for medicinal plants, nutritional supplements, therapeutic massages and other health-related products and services in North Korea, sources inside the country report.

The expansion of the markets and an increase in the number of private businesses opening since the 2000s has given rise to a new social class with relatively stable income, and many of these individuals are now looking to take better care of their health.

“People have more time and resources to take better care of themselves now. They’re increasingly interested in what they eat and in health and medicinal products,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on January 30.

“There are new products being introduced like ginseng powder, which is claimed to improve immune system function, and dandelion powder to stop infections. The markets offer various kinds of medicinal plants and foot massagers that help circulation, which are very popular.”

A source in North Hamgyong Province reported that naturally-grown medicinal plants are highly sought after by consumers in certain seasons. Popular items include Russian ginseng, which is supposedly helpful for improving energy and preventing strokes, while mountain ash is supposedly effective against bronchitis and tuberculosis. Omija is claimed to be effective against bronchial issues and coughing.

“Balloon flowers, dong quai, and Solomon’s seal products have been introduced, along with moxa and cupping (a therapeutic technique in traditional Oriental medicine) have also been introduced, maybe because many more people are using moxibustion,” she said, adding that treatments focusing on circulation in the foot are becoming popular, and foot massagers manufactured in collaboration with hospitals are on sale in the markets

“Among those families that are somewhat health-conscious, many buy nutritional supplements imported from China and eat them on a daily basis. There are more people who buy foot massagers to use on their tired feet.”

A photo of a foot massager sent by an additional source in Ryanggang Province shows similarities with acupuncture foot massagers on sale in South Korea. South Korean products are made of plastic or rubber, while the North Korean ones are made with larch wood, which is common in the country.

Pictures of a left and right foot are drawn on top of the massager, with the alleged benefits of using the product on each part of the body’s organs explained as well. Between the pictures of the two feet, there is a statement that says, “Your Second Heart: Feet,” along with, “The sediment on your feet causes a host of problems. Just use this massager for 15 minutes a day! You’ll be surprised at how effective it is!”

“The merchants selling the massagers say that doctors recommend the product to improve people’s health because just 15 minutes per day eases fatigue and allows blood to circulate better,” said the source who provided the photo.

The merchants also claim that users should step on the acupuncture point on the bottom of one foot with the other foot, and massage the spot 10 cm above their knees with their hands. After using the massager, clients are told that they should also drink a cup of warm water to ensure the treatment is effective.

“It’s clear that people’s standards of living are improving,” said the North Hamgyong Province-based source in regards to the recent increase in demand for health-related products.

“The hospitals and treatment facilities in North Korea, however, are in such poor condition that people know they need to take care of themselves.”