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Talking about Traditional Chinese Medicine with Chinese Doctors

A few months ago my friend told me that she had a small tumor. The doctor said that it was benign and she could either have it removed with an operation, or try to reduce its size using Chinese medicine. She opted for the Chinese medicine. 3x’s a day for months she drank the thick brown bitter liquid which was distilled from bear bile, birds nests and shark fins.

Now I try to keep an open mind about alternative medicine, and I think there are many things in Chinese medicine that have promise for medical applications, this however doesn’t seem to be one of those times. For four months my co-worker wasted her money on this concoction with no results. The sad thing is I know the hospital is selling this “treatment” partially because of the money they receive in exchange for pushing this product. We just hide behind the name of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) when there is no clinical proof that this is in any way an effective medical treatment.

These aren’t just my opinions either, many Chinese doctors who have been trained in “western” medicine worry about the effects of TCM too. One mentioned that often the patients are unaware of the side-effects of the traditional cures, and arrive in our hospital with liver or renal failure. Even the TCM doctor pointed to the fact that many people are graduating with only 3 months of study and calling themselves traditional healers, when really an apprenticeship and study takes almost as much time as becoming a doctor.

Of the 6 doctors I talked with, 3 of them said they would never take TCM treatments, 2 of them said they would take Chinese herbs for a cold or minor illness, and only one said she would take them for any serious disease (my friend who took the drugs for her tumor).

All of the doctors though agreed that they would like to see more regulations concerning TCM to protect the reputation of the practice. The TCM doctor said that he was very disappointed to see how commercialized it had become in the past decade, and how easily universities were handing out diplomas.

The TCM doctor was saying that he saw TCM’s role as accompanying Western medicine in a pain management role. For example, chemotherapy patients often struggle with side-effects which, according to patient reports, can be better controlled with acupuncture for pain and herbs for stomach problems.

Ultimately more clinical research will be useful in proving that there is value in TCM, protecting the integrity of the practice, and at the same time will help to protect Chinese patients from “cures” that delay them from getting proper treatment.


11 Comments

  1. Chopstik says:

    Useful info regarding the chemotherapy treatements used in conjunction with TCM for pain relief. I’ll retain that for future reference.

    I have personally used acupuncture (arthritis in my knee) and have actually found it to be exceedingly useful. However, for the most part, I am reluctant to try anything “traditional” (Chinese or Western) beyond that even though I know a few practitioners. And many of my friends (both Chinese and non-Chinese) feel the same as I do.

  2. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    I have also used acupuncture as an effective pain reliever for sciatica. It was administered by a Chinese TCM doctor. I spoke to my National Health Service GP who was positive about it but said it only gave a brief respite from pain – true! My elderly aunt was prescribed acupuncture free from the British NHS for her painful arthritis but did not find it effective. Here in Scotland, many people like TCM medicine but the EU (European Union) to which we belong, have now slapped new stringent and expensive .rules on it’s sale so I wonder if this will reduce its popularity

    • Tom says:

      I am really interested in seeing it’s clinical effectiveness for people who doubt that it works. In Chinese tests I’m not sure they measured it against a placebo or other available treatments so it will be fun to see new EU studies.

  3. I think that it is like everything: it depends. Traditional Chinese Medicine (applied by a real professional) can be really useful to some kind of illnesses. However, there are some illnesses that to be cured I think that Western Medicine is unavoidable. In any case, I think that the doctor should be trustworthy.

  4. Allan says:

    My wife is a Dr of TCM (not after 6 months as the article mentioned but after 12 years!)
    However i do feel that it should and must be tested clinically and that TCM hides behind “we have used this for thousands of years” or “each case is individual and so is each treatment”. There is not reason that is shouldn’t be tested after all Western med tested herbal treatment hundreds of years ago, ie willow? bark which today is aspirin.

    That said i believe Cambridge Uni in England is testing TCM treatments now (a 3 year study on behalf of a HK based company…the name of which escapes me at present). It will be interesting to see what the results are.

  5. […] A few months ago my friend told me that she had a small tumor. The doctor said that it was benign and she could either have it removed with an operation, or try to reduce its size using Chinese medicine. … Continue reading → […]

  6. […] TCM treatments that have not been examined by modern medicine, but so are many Chinese doctors (my discussion with doctors about TCM). Yet TCM persists, and is gaining in popularity in the West because for some people it is […]

  7. […] 出于信息公开原则,我想有必要先说明:我对未经现代医学证实的中医药疗效存疑,有一些中国医生也跟我一样(我曾经跟他们一起讨论过中医药的问题)。但中医药仍然传承下来了,而且因为对于一些人来说,发现它确有疗效,所以在西方国家正越来越受欢迎。 […]

  8. […] are new to Traditional Chinese Medicine I suggest reading my other posts on the topic first (1, 2, 3, […]

  9. I am currently eating the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that I bought from a Taiwanese TCM doctor. After eating, I feel very energetic, but after that I feel tired. I’m afraid that it may contain toxic compounds / compounds stimulating, and I want to send a sample for analysis. How I can do that?
    Regards,
    Cliff Merchant MD

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