Tuesday, April 1, 2008


아줌마병 (aka Ajummabyeong) is an often mis-diagnosed but common disorder affecting post-menopausal Korean women. While at first it may seem controversial that a condition is linked to an ethnic type, it is not uncommon. For example, scientists have long identified Sickle Cell Anemia as being,

...found in people of African, Mediterranean, Indian, and Middle Eastern heritage. In the United States, these disorders are most commonly observed in African Americans and Hispanics from the Caribbean, Central America, and parts of South America.
But what's puzzling the current research is the high density of the affected women living within the Korean peninsula. In comparison, samples of ethnic Korean women who live in other countries have a remarkably low probability of developing ajummabyeong. In the fact the relationship between developing the condition and proximity to Korea is almost exponential; while nearly 100% of Korean women living in Korea will develop some degree of ajummabyeong, the likelihood for a Korean woman in neighboring China was shown to be drastically lower. This trend continued, and as Dr. Ha Foon Ni in his paper Relationships between Ajummabyeong and Ethnic Korean culture points out, his team links
...smaller probability with longer distances, up to a point where the furthest distance sampled, North America, contained almost negligible cases of developing ajummabyeong with this caveat: the numbers were reported lower since, of the discovered cases in the target cities, it was shown that a large percentage of these females had a high ratio of Life in Korea vs Life in Host Country. Likewise, Koreans who had a lower ratio, that is people had spent more of their life in their host countries, were virtually free of symptoms attributed to ajummabyeong.
Again it seems absurd that a condition could target a specific gender from a specific country. But after Googling some similar results I found out that ajummabyeong isn't the only affliction targeting Koreans. There's also stomach cancer.

While Gastrical Cancer is another emerging Korean-only condition, it doesn't discriminate as blatantly as ajummabyeong, again, statistically speaking and compared to neighboring countries. But nonetheless Korea somehow has an improbably high rate of stomach cancer and while the cause of ajummabyeong is so far a mystery, scientists are blaming kimchi for the cancer. This idea is something that is at best described as contradictory to Korea's collective belief. For example, consider this lead paragraph from the Digital Chosen Ilbo:
Cancer is Korea’s biggest killer, responsible for 25 percent of deaths. Its causes are still not fully known, its treatment too often remains a stab in the dark, but it is clear that a diet rich in kimchi and other traditional Korean dishes can be highly effective in preventing cancer.
And compare it to this study, conveniently name kimchi and soybean pastes are risk factors of gastric cancer.

While the argument between kimchi and cancer may be convincing, it would be premature to suggest a connection between kimchi and ajummabyeong. A cause (and heance cure) is still unknown at this time. However, the symptoms for ajummabyeong are fairly easy to identify but the tragedy is that many women fail to recognize their own symptoms before it's too late. And even then most women tend to go without treatment due to a lack of awareness. From a quick search on the internet I can list these most common symptoms:
  • Drastic metabolism reeducation. Unfortunately the high metabolism that is generally acknowledged in keeping young Korean women fairly slim simply stops working, resulting in immediate weight gain. As a side effect the addition weight bears down on lithe skeletal frames and most women, as ajummabyeong progresses, lose a considerable amount of height. In serious cases this results in a stoop.
  • Hair protein realignment. Scientists don't know why during the on-set of ajummabyeong the subject's scalp will start producing a different strain of hair protein. The closest related phenomenon is female balding, except that the effect is slightly different. The average Korean 'straight' hair will start to contract, resulting in wavy or curly hair. As the disease progresses, the realignment becomes so severe that the subject's hair will contract to a point of oxygen starvation and (for lack of a better term) the apparent suicide of the hair folical. The end result is permanent hair loss.
  • Polymorphic light eruptions. More commonly know as light allergies, PLE are skin complaints triggered by exposure to natural light affecting roughly 80% of women diagnoses with ajummabyeong. The more severe cases will require the subject to cover all exposed skin including the hands and face. While in the past many women were held prisoner by this aspect of ajummabyeong, the invention of UV-coated plastics has greatly liberated their suffering. To avoid the 'mummy' look, Korean women can wear a face visor, a UV-coated shield that covers the entire face from the painful rays of the sun.
Many experts agree that the first obstacle in curing ajummabyeong is awareness. And, like the Green Ribbon, the Pink Ribbon, the Red Ribbon, and even the Pink and Blue Cloud Ribbon, ajummabyeong has its own kimchi-colored awareness campaign ribbon. I don't quite understand the logic behind the selection of Red, Orange, and Green to signify the disease but I have to applaud the effort that Koreans are just now starting to make toward fighting this terrible affliction that affects nearly all Korean women. After all, awareness is vital in the fight against any diseases and hopefully the more Korean women that recognize that they are suffering from ajummabyeong, the more Korean scientists can learn and come closer to finding a much needed cure.

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