Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – whose main component is Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) – is a body of healing practices that also include acupuncture, acupressure, cupping, massage (Tuina), dietary therapy and breathing exercises (Tai Chi, Qi Gong), etc.
Traditional Chinese Medicine involves the use of natural plants but also minerals and even animal parts. Even in the case of a herbal preparation, I was once asked by my practitioner permission to add insect wings to the herbal mixture used to make the medicinal tea for my eczema.
According to the London based Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM), ‘[it], along with the other components of [Traditional] Chinese medicine, is based on the concepts of Yin and Yang. It aims to understand and treat the many ways in which the fundamental balance and harmony between the two may be undermined and the ways in which a person’s Qi or vitality may be depleted or blocked. Clinical strategies are based upon diagnosis of patterns of signs and symptoms that reflect an imbalance.’[i]
CHM and Modern Pharmacology
‘[Chinese] herbal medicine is distinct from medicine based on pharmaceutical drugs. Firstly, because of the complexity of plant materials it is far more balanced than medicine based on isolated active ingredients and is far less likely to cause side-effects. Secondly, because herbs are typically prescribed in combination, the different components of a formulae balance each other, and they undergo a mutual synergy which increases efficacy and enhances safety. Thirdly, herbal medicine seeks primarily to correct internal imbalances rather than to treat symptoms alone, and therapeutic intervention is designed to encourage this self-healing process.’[ii]
‘Each herb has its own specific characteristics and particular medical use to treat various diseases, rectifying the over-activity or under-activity of Yin and Yang, and helping restore the body to its normal physiological functions. Chinese herbal therapy must be given by qualified TCM practitioners. Normally, the practitioner must conduct a diagnostic consultation, such as asking you questions that relate to your health problems, taking your pulse and observing your tongue, before making a prescription. A prescription can be defined as a preparation which, on the basis of syndrome differentiation and accordingly established therapeutic methods, organically combines various herbs in accordance with Chinese medicine principles.’[iii]
Concerns about Traditional Chinese Medicine
There is empirical evidence (see my case study) that Traditional Chinese Medicine can achieve a dramatic improvement in treating eczema. However, the effectiveness of this treatment remains poorly documented. The Traditional Chinese Medicine principles originate in ancient books and mysticism such as Yin/Yang, Qi and the Five Elements. ‘…The bulk of these precepts, including the model of the body, or concept of disease, is not supported by science or evidence-based medicine. TCM [Traditional Chinese Medicine] is not based upon the current body of knowledge related to health care in accordance with the scientific community… There are concerns over a number of potentially toxic Chinese medicinals that consist of plants, animal parts and minerals. There is a lack of existing cost-effectiveness research for TCM.’[iv]
‘Some animal parts used as medicinals can be considered rather strange such as cows’ gallstones. Other examples of animal parts include horn of the antelope or buffalo, deer antlers, testicles and penis bone of the dog, and snake bile. Some can include the parts of endangered species, including tiger bones and rhinoceros horn. The black market in rhinoceros horn reduced the world’s rhino population by more than 90 percent over the past 40 years.’[v]
‘Since TCM [Traditional Chinese Medicine] recognizes bear bile as a medicinal, more than 12,000 Asiatic black bears are held in “bear farms”. The bile is extracted through a permanent hole in the abdomen leading to the gall bladder, which can cause severe pain. A number of animal species used in traditional Chinese medicine are now raised on farms in large quantities. Australian scientists have developed methods to identify medicines containing DNA traces of endangered species. Some TCM [Traditional Chinese Medicine] textbooks have recommended preparations containing animal tissues when there has been little research to justify the claimed clinical efficacy of many TCM [Traditional Chinese Medicine] animal products.’[vi]
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[iv] Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditional_Chinese_medicine