Tuesday, January 28 2020


Traditional Chinese Medicine: let the buyer beware

Update: March, 27/2017 - 09:00
Dr. Jonathan Halevy.—Photo courtesy of Family Medical Practice Vietnam
Viet Nam News

To your health

By Dr. Jonathan Halevy *

Many in Việt Nam, China (of course) and even western countries use TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) to treat almost any problem they have, from common cold to chronic arthritis, diabetes and even cancer.

Many believe that if it is "Traditional" "Chinese" or "Herbal" medication – it’s safe and has no side effects whatsoever. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.

First, let’s look at the differences between "Traditional" and "Modern" or "Western" medicine:

You will be surprised to know that many medications used in Modern medicine actually originate in "Traditional" Medicine, such as Indian and Chinese medicine: Ephedrine, Digoxin, Echinacea, Artemisinin, Quinine, and several anti-Cancer medications, to name a few. Vaccines were actually first invented by Chinese doctors over 5000 years ago.

So what makes the difference between "Traditional" and "Modern" medicine?

In Modern medicine – You have to prove 2 things:

1. The medicine is effective.

2. The medicine is safe to use.

To do that, every medication has to go through a long exhausting process of research and evaluation to confirm or disprove its effectiveness and safety.

In "Traditional" Medicine, people rely on other people’s anecdotal experience, assuming that "If it works for them it will work for me as well". That can be very misleading. If a 100-year-old man has been smoking for 80 years, does it mean the cigarettes helped him reach such a long life? Of course not! And we know this because reality and research show that smoking cigarettes is a major cause of disease and death.

The best way to prove a medication works is by a "Double blind Placebo study."

In this kind of research, patients are randomly divided into 2 equal groups. One group gets the real medicine and the other group a placebo. Both the patients and the doctors who conduct the study are "blinded" – they don’t know which one is fake and which is true.

At the end of the research, the information is gathered and studied and a conclusion made based on objective data on whether a medicine is truly effective or not.

One of the biggest dangers in using TCM is the lack of supervision on production. Studies done by German and Australian authorities on imported TCM discovered that many of them where fake. They did not contain the ingredients they were supposed to. For example, a TCM claiming to contain antelope horn actually contained goat and sheep material.

Some TCM were found to contain steroids, antibiotics and even poisonous heavy metals like lead and arsenic. A few years ago, Washington University conducted a research at the children’s hospital here in HCM City. They investigated exposure to lead in little children. One of those children, a 3-month-old baby, had a lead over 10 times higher than the acceptable level. The baby was exclusively breastfed, so the source could only have been the mother. They have found out that the mother was taking TCM pills that contained high levels of lead, poisoning both mother and baby.

Tests done on herbal preparations also discovered that many contained over 68 different species of plants, most of them not mentioned as ingredients and some contained a chemical compound called "Aristolochic acid", a major cause of kidney cancer. Taiwan, where almost a third of the population uses TCM, has the highest rate of kidney cancer in the world.

Unfortunately, most of the TCM have never been tested properly and there is no objective data to know if they are truly effective and safe.

When you decide to use TCM, you should be aware of these problems. You need to remember that "Traditional" or "Herbal" doesn’t mean the medicine has no side effects. You should get your TCM only from known reliable practitioners (Never buy medications online) and always inform your doctor if you take TCM. It can have a significant effect on your condition and on other medications you may be using.—Family Medical Practice Vietnam.

*Dr. Jonathan Halevy is a senior pediatrician at the Family Medical Practice in HCM City. He specializes in pediatric emergency and neonatal intensive care. For more advice on any medical topics, visit Family Medical Practice Hanoi on 298 Kim Mã, Ba Đình or on (04) 3843 0748 and hanoi@vietnammedicalpractice.com.

FMP’s downtown Ho Chi Minh location is Diamond Plaza, 34 Lê Duẩn, District 1, 95 Thảo Điền Street, District 2. Tel: (08) 38227848. E:hcmc@vietnammedicalpractice.com

FMP Danang is located at 96-98 Nguyễn Văn Linh Street, Hải Châu District, Đà Nẵng. Tel: (0236) 3582 699. E: danang@vietnammedicalpractice.com.




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