Thursday, April 10, 2008

Korean Women are Special Creatures (Not)

Dear Korean,

My wife is Korean. I am Texan. She claims that there are many physiological differences between Asian and Caucasian women, and that is why they have to take care of their bodies in different ways when preparing for pregnancy, during pregnancy, and just after giving birth. How is it that information from mom and eonni is better than information from a doctor who has been to school for 8+ years and have years of experience on top of that?

There are just short of 13 million Asians in America, which is roughly a quarter of the population of South Korea. I am sure we would have some findings regarding racial differences on the Internet somewhere. Albeit, I have searched high and low on the Internet for information regarding any physiological differences between Asian and Caucasian women and men and have found squat. I think she is full of ddong, but just doesn't realize it.

Can you point me in any direction regarding information on physiological differences among Asians and Caucasians?


Dear Chris on the Floor,

The Korean is Californian. So what? Next time, just say you are white. The white guilt has reached to such a degree that white people no longer say, “I am white.” They instead say things like “I am a Texan”, “I am a New Englander”, etc, which is even more insulting for non-white Texans and New Englanders.

But onto your question. The short answer is yes, your wife is indeed full of ddong (=shit. Hey, you said it, not the Korean.) One caveat going forward: The Korean is not a doctor, so this may be wrong in some ways. However, as far as the Korean knows, there is no real physiological difference between Asian woman and Caucasian woman. Asian women, by and large, tend to be smaller, have narrower hips, and they tend to be prone to osteoporosis. However, such characteristics are no different from a small white woman.

(As an aside, by eliminating “doctor” from the possibilities of the Korean’s occupation, he may have given away what he does for living. After all, all Koreans are either doctors or …?)

Then the question is: why does your wife (and her mother and sister) say such a thing? It is because many American doctors, with their 8+ years of training and experience, are nonetheless full of shit as well. Over 50 centuries of history, Koreans (along with Chinese and Japanese) developed their own approach to personal health that is seldom understood by doctors of Western training.

Take the post-birth seaweed soup, for example. New Korean mothers’ having only seaweed soup for three weeks has a strong scientific basis – namely, seaweed is extremely rich in iron and iodine. Iron is necessary to replace the blood lost during childbirth, and iodine kick-starts hormone production that enables breastfeeding. The broth is usually made of beef or fish, which provides protein and calcium.

However, an average Korean does not know the scientific basis behind having only seaweed soup for three weeks after birth; they only know that, after thousands of years of trial-and-error, it works. Imagine telling the doctor: “I don’t need the iodine and iron supplements; I will be having seaweed soup for three weeks in a row.” Very few doctors in America would approve of that, since most do not understand the nutritional value of seaweed soup.

The same goes to other Asian medicines such as herbal extracts, acupuncture, or diagnosis by pulse (picture). Asian medicines in fact have a very complex theory behind it; it’s just that it is completely different from the theories behind Western medicine. Any explanation that involves the chi flow in the body would only invite scoffs from Western doctors as rank superstition. But Koreans know from experience that they all work.

So how do Koreans reconcile the tension? Often, they rationalize by saying that Western and Oriental medicines have different foci. While Western medicine focuses on getting rid of specific illness, Oriental medicine focuses on changing the composition of the body so that it will be more resistant to illness in general.

Another way of rationalization is saying exactly what your wife says: Koreans/Asians are just different. If a white doctor insists that a traditional remedy does not work, but self-experiment shows over and over again that it does work, it is one of the possible conclusions to say that Koreans are just different from white people in their physiology. It is especially easy to arrive at this conclusion given that, again, many Koreans are racists.

Got a question or comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. does this mean you're a lawyer? :) where'd you go to school?

  2. Acupuncture seems to work because of the placebo effect. Not to say that it doesn't work- it does, because the placebo effect is a physiological phenomenon (and can even be blocked by certain drugs). But it's been shown it doesn't matter where you put the needles.

  3. How does one explain that acupuncture cures not just pain, but also cures indigestion and allergies?

  4. Good article, it seems not only is seawood soup good for you but I read eating Kimchi or Kimchi soup can stave off a lot of health problems.

  5. my 2 cents- well the genetic makeup of asians are different in that oftentimes we lack some enzymes in the liver- ie alcohol dehydrogenase- thus the asian flush. also our earwax is different :) it's drier and thus less likely to have ear infections. and i think i remember learning that we also lack an enzyme in our glands that produce body odor.

  6. @sasa: Your examples are true. But overall, there is more genetic variation within a race that between them. And there are totally Asians with body odor.

    @the korean: The digestive and immune systems are also linked to the brain. That is why being "stressed" about something like exams or emotional troubles can lead to an upset stomach and a lower resistance to sickness. It works the other way, too. But acupuncture is almost certainly not going to make your cancer go away.

  7. I do agree, though, that doctors and scientists should investigate these traditional remedies and discover why they work or seem to work. The therapy may be good, even if the traditional explanation is unscientific. Also, that way, we can modify therapies for people who cannot or don't want to do it the fully traditional way. If someone doesn't like seaweed or is allergic to it, for example, they can make sure to get iodine and iron some other way.

  8. Melinda O,

    the Korean never said acupuncture makes cancer go away, did he? Then stop putting him in a ridiculous statement like that -- the Korean hates it when his intelligence is insulted that way.

    The Korean has little understanding about medicine. But personal experience of a very close friend shows that acupuncture made allergies go away permanently. Placebos can't do that.

  9. Here's my acupuncture story. 3rd degree sprained ankle. Took a few months to heal, had to wear crutches for a week. Got another 3rd degree sprain on the other leg, got acupuncture on recommendation from a friend. I could walk on it just fine after 3 days and it was almost completely healed after a week.

    The tradition behind it may be pseudo science, but it just plain works and it should be investigated further without being dismissed out of hand by western medicine. There is just no way a placebo effect can cure a 3rd degree sprain after a week.

  10. @the korean:
    No, you never said that, and I'm sorry to have implied that. I was just using cancer as an example of a disease where neuroimmune modulation would (usually) make very little difference. However, there are people who do believe that "alternative medicine" can cure cancers. I am glad you are not one of them.

  11. As the daughter of an acupuncturist, I agree with the Korean.


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