Traditional Chinese Medicine – Hoax or Healer? (Part 1)

a traditional chinese medicine healer is sitting with herbs on his hands, and attracts forces from two animals, a tiger and a rhino
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Traditional Chinese Medicine has a legacy which is thousands of years old, but many of its “remedies” should never have survived.

For literally centuries, the practice of prescribing and mixing certain herbs together with hot water into a tea or a paste to cure or alleviate certain ailments has remained unchanged in China.

Even today Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) sits side by side with Western medical practice in most East Asian countries. Residents there welcome a mix of both, with TCM used more for chronic conditions rather than acute.

However, a controversy has arisen in recent years, especially regarding TCM “cures” that involve using animal parts. For example, practitioners of TCM believe the penis of a tiger will improve a man’s virility, while rhinoceros horn can be ground down into powder and used to treat fever.

Whether such treatments work or not, rampant poaching of wild animals has brought some species near to extinction. Bans have been imposed on the export and sale of many animal parts as a result.

Critics claim that TCM is outdated and not based on any scientific principles. Even TCM’s diagnoses, which focus on pulse points and examination of the tongue, are not recognized in the western world.

TCM derives from Daoist philosophy. It recognizes a fundamental need to balance Yin and Yang (or opposing forces) in order to allow Qi (energy) to flow freely round the body. To many Westerners, this sounds like hogwash, and a number of so-called “cures” have been discredited, such as the following:

Herbal eczema creams– Researchers at King’s College, London discovered that eight of eleven TCM creams tested contained strong steroids, which should not have been used by children.

Herbal medicine for rheumatism–The Arthritis Research Campaign in the U.K. warned in 2010 that a Chinese medicine for rheumatism contained a substance known as “thunder god vine,” which could prove poisonous if wrongly extracted.

Tongrentang –A much respected TCM clinic with branches throughout China was recently accused in the national media of misdiagnosing tourists and handing out fake prescriptions. The branch, near Badaling Great Wall, gave huge groups of tourists suspicious medicine to treat “kidney trouble.”

The attitude of the West toward TCM remains one of “guilty till proven innocent”—conclusive scientific tests must confirm its effectiveness. In the Far East, however, cultures are much more accepting of personal testimonies by those who have benefited from TCM—if it seems to help, it works.

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