Western women suffer greater menopausal symptoms than other women around the globe. Also, Western patriarchal cultures treat older women as if they are less valuable members of society. But this is not the case in other areas around the globe.
Studies have shown that, with menopause, one size does not fit all. Learning to appreciate these differences may help women become more comfortable with and find a more positive way to approach menopause.
A clear example of the difference in Eastern and Western perspectives on the emotional and physical changes women typically experience as they get older are the very terms used to describe these changes. The Japanese word for this phase of life, konenki, when broken down, stands for “renewal years” and “energy,” whereas the Greek roots of the English word "menopause" simply mean “monthly stop.”
In fact, only about 25 percent of Japanese women reportedly experience hot flashes. Chilliness is the symptom reported more often than hot flashes but the most common symptom during this time for Japanese women is reportedly shoulder stiffness.
Most research tends to point to diet as the main reason for the lack of symptoms among Japanese women. Some feel that a diet high in fats and low in fiber (typical American diet) leads to higher estrogen levels and set us up for a large drop of estrogen when our ovaries begin to make less of it. Others feel that the high intake of phytoestrogens and isoflavones in Asian diets lessens hormonal imbalance.
The absence of hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms in other cultures shows us that, in addition to diet and lifestyle considerations, there may be a relationship between what we experience physically and what we learn from our social environments. Women in Kaliai, Papua New Guinea, welcome the end of childbearing without symptoms, as do many Native Americans and subcontinental Indians. And in northern Sudan, menopause is merely another facet of growing older, bringing with it increased social power and respect. If menopause were looked at this way in the U.S., we would all welcome it as a time of renewal.