Asian American Medical Hazard: Somatic Symptom Disorder

When she was 14, Diana Chao began experiencing severe pain in her eyes.  The pressure buildup in her eyes was diagnosed as uveitis, an inflammatory eye disease that caused her to go temporarily blind.  For the next four years, she repeatedly visited doctors to find the cause of her uveitis, which would recur every few months.   When an ophthamologist mentioned that she had seen the same symptoms in patients with mental illness, it dawned on Chao, who had been experienced depression as a child and was also diagnosed with bi-polar disorder as teenager, that her mind might be affecting her body.  This article from the Philadelphia Inquirer talks about Diana Chao and how somatic symptom disorder, a form of mental illness that manifests itself as bodily symptoms, is actually common in Asians and Asian Americans.

How does mental illness manifest physically in Asian Americans?  The article mentions that how chest pain, headaches, and stomach problems with no known physical causes are common in Cambodian refugees, many of whom are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It also talks about a Filipina American who experienced daily stomach pains which an organic cause could not be found.  This Filipina traced back the source of her problems to being sexually abused as a child.  These kind of stories are very familiar to me.  I have a relative who had persistent stomach pains for which no physical source could be found.  Alleviating anxiety and depression were key to making her pain go away.  One explanation for why somatic symptom disorder occurs in Asians and Asian Americans is that many Asian cultures stigmatize mental illness and tend to repress talk about feelings, causing mental problems and issues to manifest themselves in other ways.

As for Diana Chao, she attributes fewer episodes of uveitis to better mental health treatments.  Her own story is remarkable.  Despite suffering from uveitis symptoms and dealing with bi-polar disorder, she is a photographer who has placed work in prominent places and is currently a sophomore  at Princeton University.   She advocates for mental health treatment, giving a TedxTeen talk on the subject and founding a nonprofit called Letters to Strangers, which aims to destigmatize mental illness and to increase access to mental health care for people aged 13 through 24.   I had previously written about Wendell Tang, who suffered from mental illness but did not receive treatment.  Diana Chao shows that students with mental illness can thrive, even at intense Ivy league institutions, when they receive treatment.

(h/t:  akj)

Asian American Commercial Watch: Nature’s Bounty – Better off Healthy – “Treadmill”

I caught this Nature’s Bounty television commercial for fish oil while watching I think CNN on a Saturday morning.


I like how this 0:15 second commercial shows the woman’s future self accelerated over time an rewinds back. My mother has taken fish oil in the past, but I’ve always wondered (like vitamins), how much of  difference it can make to take such supplements. A quick reading on WebMD:

“Fish oil is FDA approved to lower triglycerides levels, but it is also used for many other conditions. It is most often used for conditions related to the heart and blood system. Some people use fish oil to lower blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol levels. Fish oil has also been used for preventing heart disease or stroke, as well as forclogged arteries, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, bypass surgery, heart failure, rapid heartbeat, preventing blood clots, and high blood pressure after a heart transplant.”

Besides the above stated benefits, WebMD goes on to list other health benefits of fish oil.

While looking for this commercial online, I also did come across the 0:30 second version of the ad, which has kind of a funny, but non sequitur moment, where the future older woman tells her younger self –

“Don’t marry Dan,” who turns out to be a creepy white guy. I wonder if this version of the ad airs!

8Questions: Dr. Sophia Yen of, a new online birth control prescription service


I’ve blogged about my friend Dr. Sophia Yen in the past. She’s probably the most politically active person I know (and her brother served in Iraq and her mother Sandy Yen was in the Taiwan legislature.)

But by day, she’s not only a doctor but also recently launched her start-up, Pandia Health – “The easiest way to get birth control.” I caught up with her recently to learn more about her startup and her motivations.

John: Today we’re talking with Dr. Sophia Yen, a physician with a passion for making women’s lives better with improved access to birth control and prescription acne medications via her startup

Dr. Yen: Thank you for having me on! I love sharing my birth control knowledge with people to help prevent unplanned pregnancies.

As Asian Americans, I think many of us have gone under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” regimen about our birth control with our parents. I’m here and happy to answer anyone’s questions about birth control, sexually-transmitted infections, and acne. I hope our generation can be more open with our children.

Why did you start

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Am I Anorexic? Asian Girl Body Issues

A few months ago, a student from Yale University, Frances Chan, blogged in the Huffington Post about her horrific experience with Yale–she was 5’ 2” and about 90 lbs, and they designated her an “eating disorder” case and began to force her to gain weight. The problem was, Chan didn’t have an eating disorder, her body was just the way it was, but their use of the broad (and widely considered inaccurate) BMI measurements labeled her an anorexic that needed saving.

When I read this news, I realized this was the tragedy that would happen should I ever become dictator of the world (or at least master of all media content). I grew up idolizing Sarah Connor from the Terminator movies, and my idea of feminine beauty is this, one of my fighter athlete idols Cris Cyborg:

Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos vs. Marloes Coenen
Get more pictures like this from SHERDOG.COM

My view of feminine beauty of course is not something everyone can live up to, not even me. Cyborg is probably two or more weight classes above what I would probably be with a fight-ready body, and I don’t have her long arm reach, good for ground-and-pound from any angle. But a girl can try to live out her dream, can’t she?
Continue reading “Am I Anorexic? Asian Girl Body Issues”

Dim Sum Diet Wrecker

For the past few months, I’ve been on a 1200 calorie baseline diet, which means I try to keep my daily calorie net intake at 1200, just enough to keep myself alive while maintaining a 500 calorie deficit. On days I don’t work out, I don’t eat more than 1200, but on days I do work out, I can eat more. So I’ve been calorie counting with My Fitness Pal, and what’s cool about the ap is that it has a lot of Asian foods on the menu, a staple in my diet.

At an LA Chinatown celebration, a friend of mine bought me a ham sui gok, a dim sum dish that is basically a fried starchy dumpling with meat inside. It’s one of my favorite dim sum dishes because it’s sweet, savory, and chewy. I popped it in my mouth, then pulled out my phone to log in the calories on My Fitness Pal, and it came up as 330 calories. I gawked at the count. It shouldn’t have surprised me so much how many calories it is because it’s fried and starchy and oily. Of course it’s going to be dense in calories, but mentally, I think of dim sum as a snack because, well, that’s what dim sum translates into in English. So a snack that’s 330 calories each? That’s worse than soda or a Snicker’s bar.
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Model and Former Pageant Queen Maria Kang’s Controversial Fitness Photo and Message


The Hubby disagrees with me on this point, but of course he does. After all, he is a straight man with a pulse. Men everywhere are rushing to defend a [super hot and sexy] damsel in distress. Women, on the other hand, especially fat, ugly women, are up in arms.

Sexy Maria Kang, model and former pageant queen, posed in sporty underwear next to her three kids for a photo shoot and headlined it: “What’s your excuse?” I do not doubt that Ms. Kang meant no harm. Her intentions were good. If she can find time in her busy schedule with three kids (and a non-profit organization and several businesses, no, no one’s bragging here) to work out and achieve a toned model’s body, then so can you! Ladies, are you inspired now to feel better about yourself as Kang intended? Or did you just turn green with envy at her, played with the bat wings under your arms, then stared at your belly, and depressed, reached for another pint of ice cream?

If you did the latter, well Maria Kang says that’s your fault, not hers. You’re just a hater because you’re too lazy to get up and do something about your ugly ass and so when you see how much hotter she is than you, you’re taking out your insecurities on her. She says to you haters directly: “What you interpret is not MY fault. It’s yours. The first step in owning your life, your body and your destiny is to OWN the thoughts that come out of your own head. I didn’t create them. You created them. So if you want to continue ‘hating’ this image, get used to hating many other things for the rest of your life.”

See? Her intentions are good.

Sadly, you know what they say about the road to hell. In her case it may not be as extreme as hell, but certainly the road to contributory negligence for further aggravating female body issues and playing the ever popular ever so trite blame game, which truly is best played against women.

Continue reading “Model and Former Pageant Queen Maria Kang’s Controversial Fitness Photo and Message”

The Wonderful World Of Penis Injections In Bangkok

Last week in the Bangkok Post, an article revealed a painful scenario which has 30-40 patients each month checking into hospitals in Bangkok: penis injections, with the intent of improving their anatomy. What’s interesting though, is that they are injecting themselves with olive oil to make their penises bigger.

Continue reading “The Wonderful World Of Penis Injections In Bangkok”

Squid No Go: Korean Woman’s Mouth Gets Inseminated by a Squid

According to a paper published in the Journal of Parasitology, a 63 year old Korean woman’s tongue, cheek, and gums got inseminated by the cooked squid she had just eaten.

This abstract explains further:

We present a case of stinging in the oral cavity caused by ingestion of the sperm bags of a squid. The patient experienced severe pain in her oral cavity immediately after eating raw squid. When she was examined at our hospital, we found that several small whitish spindle-shaped stings were stuck to the mucous membrane of the hard palate. A biopsy was performed, and the whitish stings were removed as well. We also performed a histological examination of the remaining part of the raw squid brought by the patient. The biopsy showed that the sperm bags of the squid had thrust into the squamous epithelium of the patient. The remaining part of the raw squid consisted of the testis and the sperm bags.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go cancel my lunch reservation at Red Lobster.

“Stinging in the oral cavity caused by ingestion of the sperm bags of a squid: a case report.” via io9

[Photo used under Creative Commons License via Colin-47]

Disulfiram: Anti-Alcoholism Drug Acts Like the Asian Flush

So we’ve talked WAY too much about the Asian flush here on 8Asians, meaning the immediate flushing response one gets when certain Asians–ahem, Ernie–drinks alcohol, where the symptoms can often include nausea, vomiting, and other not-so-lovely side effects when one imbibes even a half-glass of wine.

According to an article featured in one of Time magazine’s blogs, however, it looks like the Asian flush is actually seen as an evolutionary response— an advantage, even. According to Biomed Central journal, BMC Evolutionary Biology, Chinese researchers did a genetic study on a certain gene responsible for making the enzyme that allows alcohol metabolism all across China, and discovered that in areas where rice was first domesticated, mainly southeastern China, there were more people who carried the mutation that caused the Asian flush. However, in areas where rice isn’t eaten as often, like in Tibet, the mutation is seen in much less numbers. The authors argue that the mutation prevents people from dying from alcohol overdoses and somehow “supports imbibing in moderation.” Anyone who’s seen Asian American college students with the flush drink themselves literally under the table knows that just because one gets the Asian flush doesn’t mean that they don’t drink as much as others.

In fact, a drug now used to keep alcoholics from drinking too much, disulfiram, apparently acts exactly like the Asian flush. People who take disulfiram and try to drink suffer the exact same symptoms: flushing of the face, nausea, vomiting, weakness, and the list goes on.  (I would make a comment about this being a drug for Asiaphiles that makes you more Asian, but I think that might not go over very well.)

(“Drunk Ernie, not Efren” photo was modified from this)

Does your face turn red when you drink alcohol? Click here for the cure.

Please Leave Our Noodles Alone!

Even though Southern California is a melting pot of different cultures and deliciously diverse dining, the ways of the yummy Asian noodles might be lost on lawmakers. Kim Tar noodle factory has been in business for 25 years, supplying restaurants and markets with fresh rice noodles. But, a state law requiring refrigeration of noodles is threatening the life of these Asian noodles. Thankfully, some wise Asians are gathering their forces to fight the man who is trying to keep our noodles down. What I love even more than the fact that they are going to rally for the noodles is that they are planning a press conference at a restaurant in Monterey Park! (I grew up a stone-skip away from Monterey Park and still enjoy delectable Asian cuisine in MP.)

Health officials are standing their ground saying this is a matter of public safety and that “ethnic foods are not treated differently than other foods.” Newsflash health officials — Not all foods are created equal! If it’s customary for rice noodles to be stored at room temperature — and they have been for thousands of years — then storing them in the fridge doesn’t suddenly make them safer to eat! In fact, putting rice noodles in the fridge can ruin them! Asians noodles are not like other pastas. Leave our noodles alone!

Health Care Reform Week on Asian Pacific Americans for Progress’ blog

Health care is the hot topic in Washington right now, so here are some great APA perspectives on various aspects of the issue. Thanks to Curtis Chin at APAP for sharing the following links:

Five Years to Life – How Congress is failing to meet the needs of APIs in Health Reform by Sara Sadhwani
Each day we hear about the need to reform our health care system, and often the conversation focuses on those trying to derail the process. We often hear about the skyrocketing costs leading to bankruptcy for many families, the insurance company profit margins and the economic costs and benefits reform could potentially bring. What we don’t hear about are the large swaths of the American population that will be left out entirely. Among them: Immigrants.

The Price of Beauty: Nail Products Contain Harmful Chemicals by nchung
The demand for “mani/pedis” and other beauty salon services has grown steadily over the past few decades. Nail salon and other cosmetology workers handle solvents, chemical solutions, glues, and cosmetic products that contain chemicals known to be carcinogenic and suspected to cause reproductive harm on a daily basis. Of the more than 380,000 nail technicians nationwide, a staggering 42% are of Asian descent. With occupational exposures, history of immigration, barriers to health awareness, and limited access to health care, this immigrant population has a complex health risk profile.

My Experience With Health Care in America by pat ma
On Saturday, I wrote a neutral summary of Obama’s Health Care Plan. Tonight, I’m going to write two more-personal stories. First, about my experience with health care in America and second, about my parents’ experience. I have a big fear of visiting doctors. Even with health insurance, insurance companies always find ways to weasel out of paying for your visit and sticking you with the bill. Last time I went for a “routine physical,” it cost me $600.

Samoans are fat? by Val L Jacobo
Yes, Samoans are fat. Does that surprise anyone? According to the State of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Health in California Report, (Report), commissioned by the Caifornia Asian Pacific Islander Joint Legislative Caucus, there is an alarming epidemic of overweight children in California. Samoan children have the largest percentage (54%) of all children in the state of California whose body mass index (BMI) is not within the healthy Fitness Zone.

End of Life Decisions and Health Care: Who Gets to Be Right? by Ming Bee
My dad died from “complications associated” with Stage IV lung cancer, which, to me, means that the crap treatment he got from the local county hospital made him sicker than he already was. I flirted with the notion of filing a lawsuit, but concluded it would not be worth the effort — especially since the impetus for our claims would be that the attending pulmonologist lacked manners and tuned out second opinions.

(Flickr photo credit: Curious Expeditions)