We tend to take it for granted that all women, everywhere in the world, experience menopause in a way similar to the way we experience it; however in various cultures that are different from our own, menopause is experienced very differently from the way in which you experience it.
New research has revealed that
- Swedish, Danish and Norwegian women are most likely to report that going through menopause is better than they expected
- Women in the U.S., U.K., France and Canada are more prone to find menopause much worse than they had anticipated
The researchers conducted an online survey of 8,200 older men and women in countries around North America and Europe. They identified vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, disrupted sleep, and weight gain as the top five symptoms experienced by postmenopausal women in North America and Europe.
However these symptoms were found to be more prevalent in women from the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada...and less prevalent in women from other countries. 85% of the Canadian women said that vaginal dryness was a concern, but only 65% of Italian women did so.
Other research has revealed that approximately 75% of American women experience hot flashes - but it couldn't be more different in Asia. Hot flashes have been reported by only about 10 percent of women in China, 17 percent of women in Singapore, and 25 percent of women in Japan.
In 2006 the results of an international survey of menopausal women, to find the symptom that troubled them the most, was reported. Women from Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand as well as US, UK, Australia, Canada, Finland and Hong Kong were polled. When the results were examined collectively, the symptom that troubled women the most was not hot flashes, but headaches. After headaches came joint problems, irritability, lack of energy and nervous tension.
Why do women in various countries experience menopause symptoms differently?
All women in every country of the world go through menopause. Every women experiences the same hormonal changes during the passage through menopause. Hormonal changes are the cause of all menopause symptoms. Researchers have found that cultural differences appear to shape how a woman experiences the symptoms associated with their hormonal changes.
Even within the United States, the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) showed wide differences in menopause symptoms among racial and ethnic groups. The study found that
- Caucasian women noted more muscle aches, difficulty sleeping, and irritability than women of other backgrounds in this study
- African-American women were more likely to experience hot flashes and night sweats; these women also had a more positive attitude about menopause
What are the cultural factors that influence a woman’s experience of menopause?
Researchers have found that cultural differences influence how women experience menopause in 3 main areas
- Attitudes toward getting older
Diets vary greatly between cultures. Some cultures consume meat as their main source of proteins, while others consume more fish. Some cultures consume more fresh vegetables and fruit than others. Studies have found that the Mediterranean diet, characterized especially by a high consumption of vegetables and olive oil, significantly reduces menopause symptoms.
Some cultures get more exercise than others. They engage in more physical outdoor activities than others, such as skiing, bike riding, swimming and boating.
Some cultures revere age and older women more than others. In America, and in western societies, aging is often viewed negatively, and with distaste, among women and society at large. Hollywood, television and advertising is constantly re-enforcing the idea that women are valued for their beauty and attractiveness. As a result, many women are terrified of aging. Menopause is viewed as a sign of aging.
In many other cultures menopause is viewed positively, as a transition to new phase in life, where the woman is valued for her wisdom. She becomes a valued elder of the family and society.
The lead author of the new study referenced in this post is Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, and a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive health at Yale Medical School. She is also an active member of the North American Menopause Society. She found:
- In societies where age is more revered and the older woman is the wiser and better woman, menopausal symptoms are significantly less bothersome
- Where older is not better, many women equate menopause with old age, and symptoms can be much more devastating
Here are 3 things you can do to make your passage through menopause easier
- Become informed about the menopause experiences and attitudes of women from all over the world
- Follow the Mediterranean Diet or a diet based on real food. Real food does not need labels, ie. unprocessed meat, fish, milk, eggs, legumes, fruits, grains and vegetables.
- Adopt a more physically active lifestyle
This post is reproduced with the permission of Menopause Matters.
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