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Following is a copy of the discussion that happenned at the Reference Desk, which seeded this article and Culture-specific syndrome

Cooling effect of oil on human body[edit]

I've often felt my internal body temperature go up or at least it appeared so. The symptoms would be: feeling heat in the eyes and experiencing difficulty with urinating. One remedy that my parents (and many others here) suggest is applying a few drops of gingelly oil (sesame oil) or castor oil in the navel. I've always found immediate relief with this. What is the mechanism behind this remedy? -- Sundar \talk \contribs 04:24, July 21, 2005 (UTC)

I can't see what kind of effect they would have, other than making your belly button well lubricated (which isn't a particularly medical effect) :) ... I would guess the relief is psychosomatic in nature (see also placebo effect), and possibly the feeling of your internal body temperature rising is psychosomatic, as well. Proto t c 12:03, 21 July 2005 (UTC)
My unsure wording (like at least it appeared so) probably led you to think as above. I wish to clarify that the uncertainty was only with respect to my assessment of the cause, but the symptoms are real and the inconvenience during urination is a very objective symptom in that you can practically feel a pain as if your own urine is piercing the inner wall of the urethra (at least, for a male). Also, it is not peculiar to me. I've heard the same complaint from a number of males and some females in this part of the world (Tamil Nadu). It sometimes happens if you had to sit for sometime on a hot rock for an hour. It is so common that the Tamil language word suudu for heat is used commonly among many generations of people to describe this condition. Perhaps the relief has to do with the placebo effect, but I'm not totally convinced about the symptom per se being psychosomatic. -- Sundar \talk \contribs 12:34, July 21, 2005 (UTC)

If this is a widely recognized and named condition in your culture, ask a western trained doctor in your culture what the scientific perspective is. All cultures, including American and European, have "folk diseases" as well as folk medicine that are culture-specific and absolutely unfamiliar and strange to a scientific physician from another culture. The phenomenon is a good illustration of the cultural dimension of how we think about, categorize, and interpret disease of the sort that doesn't include unmistakably objective structural or biochemical alterations of the body. I am not referring to structural/biochemical diseases that occur in a specific locale (like ackee-fruit hypoglycemia or sleeping sickness or kuru) but diseases that occur only in a specific culture (like koro or repetitive motion injury or adolescent conduct disorder or zombification) and do not involve objective structural or biochemical abnormalities. I suspect your phenomenon falls in this category. Have you discussed it with a local doctor? And then please write us an article about it! alteripse 20:24, 21 July 2005 (UTC)

I know equivalents for say Zombie etc in our local culture and know fully well that these are myths, which sometimes are perpetrated because of vested interests like self-styled priests claiming to cure these. But, I still feel that this particular phenomenon falls under the ackee-fruit kind. Aren't you at least aware of people massaging their head with certain oils purportedly to reduce their internal "heat"? Perhaps, it's a tropical phenomenon. I would definitely talk to a local doctor here sometime soon and update. -- Sundar \talk \contribs 06:21, July 22, 2005 (UTC)
Some related links: [1] [2]. -- Sundar \talk \contribs 06:55, July 22, 2005 (UTC)
I should have left out the mention of zombies, but my understanding is that many Haitians used to be as certain of the objective reality of the phenomenon as you are. I emphasized some American and European types of culture-bound conditions and treatments so you understand that I am not characterizing your condition as superstititious, magical, primitive, or mistaken, just culture-specific. All cultures have this sort of disorder that is widely known within the culture and completely unknown in others. Note that the one relevant link you offered suggests that chinese traditional categorizations of heating and cooling substances correspond to measurable differences in ability to influence prostaglandin processes in vitro. I have no knowledge of traditional chinese medicine but would not be surprised to learn that in that culture there are disorders of hotness or coolness that do not correspond to any conditions known in other cultures. You are describing an unusual type of dysuria not recognizable to a physician from another culture and proposing that a few drops of oil in your navel can affect your sensations of micturition. I am not disputing that the oil cures your symptoms, but that both your disorder and your treatment seem to be known only in your culture. That is why I suggested that a western-trained doctor in your culture might have an explanation that would make sense outside your culture, since the rest of us can only guess. alteripse 10:52, 22 July 2005 (UTC)
Sure. I understood your intention behind the examples. Just that everyone around here (even outside of Tamil Nadu) that I asked recently seem to know this and tell that they've experienced the symptom. An additional symptom is perceivable warmth in the lower abdomen, pelvic area and the penis. It's getting more interesting for me as I learn that something very common in this culture is totally new for others. I'll definitely update you after discussing with some doctor. -- Sundar \talk \contribs 11:17, July 22, 2005 (UTC)
I had a discussion with a western-trained local doctor. Contrary to my expectations, she almost approved Alteripse's reasoning. She said the dysuria that happens is mostly due to reduced intake of water or infection and added that the apparent cure of the oil might have to do with the soothing effect of the oil and the sleep that it induces when applied on the eyes and the head. However, she said Castor oil is an anti-irritant and hence may be useful in other instances. Now, I'm compelled to believe in the placebo theory. However, let me wait for the next occurence and objectively analise the situation. -- Sundar \talk \contribs 06:59, July 24, 2005 (UTC)

Culture-specific syndromes are characterized by

  1. widespread familiarity in the culture;
  2. complete lack of familiarity of the condition to people in other cultures;
  3. no objectively demonstrable biochemical or tissue abnormalities (just symptoms);
  4. the condition usually is recognized and treated by the folk medicine of the culture.

An interesting aspect of culture-specific syndromes is how real they are-- characterizing them as "imaginary" is as inaccurate as characterizing them as "malingering", but in the English language and from a scientific perspective, we have no good way to understand them. Culture-specific syndromes shed light on how our mind decides that symptoms are connected and how we define a known "disease." Medical care of the condition is challenging and illustrates a truly fundamental but rarely discussed aspect of the physician-patient relationship: the need to negotiate a diagnosis that fits the way of looking at the body and its diseases of both parties. The physician may

  1. share the way the patient sees the disorder and offer the folk medicine treatment;
  2. recognize it as a culture-bound syndrome but pretend to share the patient's perspectives and offer the folk medicine treatment or a new improvised treatment;
  3. recognize it as a culture-bound syndrome but try to educate the patient into seeing the condition as the physician sees it.

The problem with choice 1 is that a physician who prides himself on his knowledge of disease likes to think he knows the difference between culture-specific disorders and "organic" diseases. While choice 2 may be the quickest and most comfortable choice, the physician must deliberately deceive the patient. Currently in Western culture this is considered one of the most unethical things a physician can do (a 7th circle of hell sin like having sex with your patient), whereas in other times and cultures deception with benevolent intent has been considered one of the tools of treatment. The problem with choice 3 is that it is the most difficult and time-consuming to do without leaving the patient disappointed, insulted, or lacking confidence in the physician, and may be haunted by doubts in the minds of both physician and patient ("maybe the condition is real" or "maybe this doctor doesn't know what he is talking about").

Sundar, we could still use a brief article on this condition. alteripse 12:49, 24 July 2005 (UTC)

Sure. Thanks for the detailed analysis, Alteripse. I'll try to write a stub on this soon. As for the "ethicality" of point 2, it is considered praiseworthy in our local culture. The couplet 292 from Tirukkural would illustrate that. -- Sundar \talk \contribs 07:50, July 25, 2005 (UTC)

Limited to south Indians?[edit]

Hi Idleguy, you've asked if north Indians don't have similar problems? My hunch is that they too will have similar problems. Just that I'm not able to confirm. Of course, going by the TV commercials for Navarathna oil etc., I think they'll have the same notion. -- Sundar \talk \contribs 11:51, August 16, 2005 (UTC)