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    Korean Cultural Beliefs on Health Care Practices test

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    South Korea is a country located on the southern end of the Korean Peninsula in East Asia. Currently, the population is 51,710,000 and nearly homogeneous with over 96% of the people having the same Korean ethnicity. This collective identity unites societal norms and culture. Being that South Korea was part of China for centuries, Confucianism has had a potent impact on Korean culture. In Confucianism, filial piety is a very important virtue. This concept refers to loyalty and reverence to one’s parents, leaders and ancestors.

    The ancestor angle of filial piety is a possible cause for Korean clients’ views about their health and illnesses. For example, many Korean clients may believe that the root of their illness is their ancestor’s displeasure with their burial place. So instead of seeking out medical advice or diagnosis, they will go to an “earth doctor” who will choose another burial site free from supernatural evil influences. Therefore, a belief of Korean people regarding their health is that the cause of their illness is spiritual in nature instead of being physiological or mental. For example, they believe in the power of prayer or the need to fulfill spiritual obligations for treatment or the inverse being the cause of their illness being a failure to pray whether that comes from Confucianism, Christianity, or Taoism.

    Some common traditional treatments Korean clients seek, alongside Western medicine at the same time, include acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, and herbal remedies from a “Hanui” which is a traditional herbal doctor. Acupuncture is a treatment that inserts very thin needles on specific pressure points in order to manage pain and stress. Korean acupuncture differs from traditional Chinese acupuncture in its use of only four needles for extremities like either ear or hand. Cupping is the act of applying glass cups that have been heated to the back and forming a vacuum for pain management, help with blood flow, inflammation, relaxation and as a type of deep tissue massage. Moxibustion is a therapy where the practitioner grinds up a mugwort herb to a fluff and then burns it sometimes over a client’s skin to apply heat for pain management.

    Herbal remedies are called “han yak” which are based on the Taoist notion that in life, there must be a balance between yin and yang as well as the balance of five elements- wood, water, fire, earth and metal. Korean people feel that an imbalance of yin leads to ‘cold’ illnesses like hypothermia, depression, and indigestion. An imbalance of yang could result in hyperthermia, stroke and/or seizures. The Hanui will prescribe herbs and roots to balance the yin and yang in an effort to restore the body to health. For instance, ginseng is a widely used root for han yak. Korean people will consume it dried after cooking it with steam. According to the herbal doctor, ginseng is considered an antioxidant and known for treating depression, anxiety, indigestion and respiratory disorders due to its energizing effect and strengthening of the brain.

    There is a Korean concept called “yak sik dong won.” This idea equates the body-healing resources with diet and nutrition because the Korean approach toward health is holistic, emphasizing herbal medicine and food as majorly contributing to maintenance of health and the prevention of illness. In addition, they believe that consuming the corresponding body part in food could heal that body part. For example, a vision problem can be resolved by eating fish eyes.

    As a result of the “yak sik dong won” belief, in general, the typical Korean diet will be healthy and lower in sugar, fat and calories than in Western countries like the U.S. because it mainly consists of vegetables, rice, and soup with small amounts of meat or seafood. Indeed, many Korean people will drink a green vegetable juice for breakfast, as well as eat hot cereals with ginseng, ginger, and jujubis because they consider food to be medicine. A benefit of the healthy Korean diet as a result of “yak sik dong won” is that South Korea has one of the world’s lowest obesity rate. Along with the low obesity rate, South Korean also has low cardiovascular disease and degenerative disease rates.

    The goal of producing healthy food is achieved by Korean cooking methods of fermentation, pickling, boiling and blanching as opposed to less healthy techniques of baking and frying. Kimchi (spicy, fermented cabbage) is Korea’s well-known national food. The acids and enzymes from fermentation are thought to generate the beneficial bacteria for gastrointestinal health, as well as aid the immune system and metabolism.

    One potential negative implication of following “yak sik dong won” is that many Korean people try to treat their illnesses with food before turning to medical treatment. Delaying medical treatment can exacerbate their illnesses and require stronger medical treatments with possibly more side effects. Some Korean people could not seek out medical treatment altogether because according to “yak sik dong won”, food and medicine come from the same source.

    South Korea has some specific cultural beliefs about health care practices. First, Korean people sometimes put more emphasis on the spiritual element of health care than medical. Second, there are several traditional therapies Korean people will try either taking the place of or in conjunction with Western style health care. Finally, the concept of “yak sik dong won” (food and medicine taking equal roles in health care) is a specific Korean cultural belief that has both a benefit of low obesity rate for the country and a possible negative implication of people delaying or foregoing medical treatment in favor of self treating with healthy foods.

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