What alternative health

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A Wikipedia article looking at TCM theory, TCM diagnostic techniques, TCM treatment techniques, TCM and science, the relationship between TCM and Western medicine, and TCM and animals.

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Advice on the safety and quality of Traditional Chinese Medicines. Includes a lengthy 'Questions and Answers' section (see left-hand sidebar of the link). UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)

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Chinese police searching a van for drugs instead found 173 bear paws that appeared to be on the way to traditional Chinese medicine markets. They also discovered other rare animals including a dead pangolin and four python skins. The paws are regarded as a rare delicacy and are believed to be able to "enhance the health of the stomach, cure injuries, dispel colds and build strength". News report (9th June 2009)

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"A German pharmacologist, in a newly published case series, discusses the risks of taking a popular Chinese "herbal" slimming capsule. The report highlights some of the common themes I have discussed often on this blog. The capsules are marketed as "dietary supplements" and the public is meant to be reassured by the fact that the "supplements" are herbal. However this is just a marketing fiction. Herbs are drugs and herbs sold as supplements are not supplements but poorly regulated drugs.The slimming capsules in question contained the drug sibutramine — which is a stimulant like amphetamine. In fact they contained twice the recommended daily maximum of this drug for prescription use." Article by Steven Novella MD Neurologica Blog (8th April 2009)

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"A Chinese "herbal Viagra" sold throughout the UK contains dangerous levels of hidden pharmaceutical drugs, medicine chiefs have warned…..The undeclared ingredients were deliberately put in the Chinese herbal medicine to con the public, says the MHRA. The levels are said to be high enough to cause serious side effects, including heart and blood pressure problems. Adverse reactions could also occur with other prescription drugs, such as those used to treat blood pressure and heart disease, and some antidepressants…..The product, manufactured by Hunan Aimin Pharmaceutical Ltd, based in Hengyang, Hunan Province, China, is advertised as 100% herbal." Press Association news report (7th April 2009)

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"Today, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the MHRA, issued a warning against a Chinese Herbal product called 'Jia Yi Jian', and sold as 'Herbal Viagra', through high street Chinese Herbalists. Batches of this product had been seized and examined and they were found to contain exceedingly high levels of undeclared pharmaceutical ingredients. Despite being labelled as being only herbal in origin, the product had actually been adulterated with large quantities of real drugs that were licensed for treating erectile dysfunction and, strangely, obesity..…there are signs we are approaching the regulation of much of Chinese Alternative Medicine in the belief that we simply need to uphold standards of training and ensure that traders are of 'good character'. This will do little to stop adulterated products arriving in the UK or false and misleading claims being made by practitioners. Even unadulterated products present significant risks to customers. At the heart of the regulatory problem is a double standard. Real medicine is tightly regulated. Only a few qualified people can prescribe and dispense. Theirs are professional regulators with teeth and drug companies are not allowed to advertise to the public and make misleading claims in their literature. Somehow, we allow herbalists to imply all sorts of unproven claims. They do not have to provide proof of efficacy or safety. There is no follow up and monitoring of side effects. We do this under the mistaken belief that Chinese Medicine is "traditional, natural and safe". None of this is true. It is a business based on fraud, misleading claims and dangerous practices." The Quackometer (7th April 2009)

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"Adverse effects from alternative therapies can come in many forms, and the alternative practice with the greatest adverse impact on the environment is probably traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). A billion or more people wanting a traditional herbal or animal product is going to have a detrimental effect on the herb or animal being consumed. There are numerous examples of the adverse effects on the environment from traditional Chinese medicine." The article goes on to take a critical look at the consequences of using rhinoceros horn, tiger parts, bear bile, shark cartilage, Saiga antelope horn, turtles, tortoises, sea horses, Magnolia, Munchurian Ginseng, Dendrobium candidum, licorice and homeopathy. By Mark Crislip MD, Science Based Medicine (27th March 2009)

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"To understand TCM, you do not need to understand chemistry, biology, anatomy or physiology because the foundation of TCM has nothing to do with them. You need instead to understand Taoism and Confucianism, as these philosophies are the founding principles of TCM." Yau-Man Chan, Skepticblog (November 2008)

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"My quarrel with TCM is that it is unscientific and the body of knowledge upon which it rests is outdated and flawed. We now have a very good understanding of the operation of our human body — not complete but fairly accurate — yet TCM still seeks to describe the anatomy and physiology of our body with unrevised knowledge from our scientifically ignorant past. It's not just bad science, it's not even science. TCM needs to be brought up to 21st Century scientific standards — shed all the voodoo, put it to vigorous tests and evaluate the results. I too, subscribe to the truism not to throw the baby out with the bath water — but let's find out if there is a baby in there! When the ginseng root and the quintessential female herb dong-quai were studied scientifically for their alleged cancer-curing power, they were found not only to be ineffective but in fact encouraged the growth of some cancer cells. It is quite possible that TCM herbs may be effective for many illnesses and may have something to offer modern pharmacology, but the active ingredients present vary in concentration depending on the soil and climate conditions under which they are grown. This makes the dosage unreliable and even dangerous when prepared by primitive home brewing. Until a pharmacological process is applied to preparation of Chinese herbs in the form of extracting the active ingredients and calibrating dosage, herbal treatment cannot be admitted into the realm of 21st century medical "science." Yau-Man Chan, Skepticblog (November 2008)

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Medicolegal advisers have issued a strong warning about the safety of Chinese medicines, advising GPs to inform patients of the potential dangers of these therapies. They said: "Given that traditional Chinese medicine neither derives from any coherent or established body of evidence nor is it subjected to rigorous assessment to establish its value, doctors should consider carefully what to tell patients about the potential dangers of using alternative Chinese medicine." Pulse (7th August 2008)

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"The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has unveiled its league table of the top ten illegal wildlife crimes. Heading the table, with the highest number of seizures made by British Customs, is traditional Chinese medicine. These medicines contain materials from tigers, rhinos, leopards, bears and sea horses. WWF wants to draw attention to this problem to ensure the survival of 827 species of animals and plants currently banned from international trade and a further 32,840 strictly controlled under a wildlife trade convention." Report in Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies [FACT] (March 2008)

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Conclusion: Individualised herbal medicine, as practised in European medical herbalism, *Chinese herbal medicine* and Ayurvedic herbal medicine, has a very sparse evidence base and there is no convincing evidence that it is effective in any indication. Because of the high potential for adverse events and negative herb-herb and herb-drug interactions, this lack of evidence for effectiveness means that its use cannot be recommended. R Guo , P H Canter , E Ernst, Postgraduate Medical Journal 2007;83:633-637 (October 2007)

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"Out of 247 traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) investigated, a proportion were contaminated with arsenic (5-15%), lead (approximately 5%), and mercury (approximately 65%). Some preparations exceeded the tolerable daily intake (TDI) for males and females for arsenic (4 and 5 products, respectively), lead (1 and 2 products), and mercury (5 and 7 products). These exceedances were as high as 2760-fold, which posed a potential danger to public health. As many users are known to self-prescribe, there is a substantial risk of poisoning from the consumption of these contaminated TCM." Cooper K, Noller B, Connell D, Yu J, Sadler R, Olszowy H, Golding G, Tinggi U, Moore MR, Myers S. J Toxicol Environ Health A. (October 2007)

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Article about Professor Zhang Gongyao of Central South University, Hunan province, China, who has been warning that Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) is often unscientific, unreliable, dangerous, a threat to endangered species, and even fatal to humans in some cases. His comments have triggered an important debate in Chinese society and have revealed that many Chinese feel distrustful of traditional medicine, especially as their country moves into the global mainstream. According to the report, Chinese newspapers have been pointing out that China has about 270,000 traditional medicine practitioners today, far fewer than 800,000 in the early 20th century. Meanwhile, the number of physicians trained in Western medicine has soared from 87,000 in the early 20th century to about 1.75 million today. The respected Chinese newspaper, Southern Daily, commented "If the government wants people to trust traditional medicine, it must make a greater effort to prove the reliability and scientific basis of traditional medicine otherwise traditional medicine will keep declining every day". Canadian Globe and Mail (11th November 2006)

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Consumer warning issued by The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) following a number of potentially dangerous and illegal traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) slimming aids becoming available on the UK market: "Caution should be exercised when considering a traditional Chinese medicine slimming aid to assist with weight loss. The safety, quality and efficacy of these unlicensed medicines cannot be assured due to the possible illegal adulteration or contamination with pharmaceutical drugs or toxic herbal ingredients in some of these aids." (22nd September 2005)

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A comprehensive survey tried to establish the nature and frequency of adverse events of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in Australia. A total of 3,222 adverse events of acupuncture were reported by 1,100 providers of TCM during their practice lifetimes. These included 64 pneumothoraces and 80 cases with convulsions. The same group reported 860 adverse events of Chinese herbal medicines. These included 130 cases of severe gastrointestinal symptoms, 34 cases of jaundice, 29 cases of hepatotoxicity, 28 cases of renal toxicity and 19 fatalities. Archives of Family Medicine (November 2000)

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The authors discuss the historical rationale for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), its involvement with the questionable Qigong movement, and the growing importation to the West of these practices by Western practitioners of "alternative medicine". Barry L. Beyerstein & Wallace Sampson, Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Skeptical Inquirer (1996)

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In this article the authors describe their participation in a symposium on pseudoscience in China, held in Beijing, and their further interactions with practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Shanghai. Wallace Sampson & Barry L. Beyerstein, Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Skeptical Inquirer (1996)

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An examination of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Chi Theory by Peter Huston, Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (1995)