It’s no secret that one of the worst side effects of menopause is the hot flush; that tell-tale heat that creeps up from your chest, leaving you red-faced and sweating, even in the depths of winter.
In the west we’ve assumed it’s just part and parcel of going through the change, but does it really have to be? The experiences of Japanese women, who don’t even have words for hot flush or Menopause, would suggest perhaps not.
Anthropologist Margaret Lock conducted extensive studies throughout the eighties, finding that Japanese women had a very different time of it during menopause to their western sisters, reporting only that their periods had stopped, with no other ill effects.
The question was and is, is this significant difference in symptoms the result of diet, genetics, lifestyle conditions or something else?
A study in 2009 looked at the experiences of 132 Japanese women compared to Hawaiian Women. This found whilst there was a difference in the symptoms experienced by the Japanese women, the biggest variant was in their attitudes to it. The final findings were that culturally, the Japanese women were simply not inclined to report or complain their experiences, so were less likely to make others aware they were struggling.
Japanese women, who don’t even have words for hot flush or Menopause
But is this really a fair representation – that women from Japan are basically double-hard and don’t whine like, well, every other woman from every other racial background? And if it is, do we need to just suck it up and reflect their stoicism a little better?
Margaret’s research does back up this idea but in a very different way; that rather than subsuming their feelings about getting older, the Japanese are far less worried about it. They respect older people and see ageing as part of life’s rich tapestry to be embraced, rather than endured. As a result, women don’t agonise over their loss of fertility in the same way and perhaps experience fewer symptoms as a result.
A big point of difference that could heavily impact menopause symptoms is the Japanese diet which is rich in Soy. Soy contains the compound Genistein and Daidzein, which are known to be estrogenic, meaning they help control hot flushes.
Japanese women also eat less fat, more meat, drink less alcohol and more water and prioritise well-being with less guilt than women in Britain (who interestingly report the worst symptoms of Menopause globally).
The discussion around Menopause management is ongoing but looking at the results, we can’t help wondering – is our cultures deep-rooted fear and disregard for our bodies the cause of our struggles?
And how would it be if we simply embraced ageing and took care of ourselves the way we really deserve?