China is promoting the use of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, and has even donated traditional Chinese medicine to a handful of countries.
This may all be in good will, however studies suggest that there are serious side effects to the use of traditional Chinese medicine. In a corrupt world where the responsible organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), have such strong political bounds to governmental entities, such as the Chinese Communist Party, it becomes our duty, as members of the society, to inform others on such crucial matters, especially when it could be a matter of life and death such as this one.
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
The World Health Organization defines traditional medicine as the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.
Traditional Chinese medicine or TCM is one branch of such traditional medicine, and it is based on approximately 3,500 years of Chinese medical practice. These medical practices include various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, cupping therapy, guasha (coining), massage, exercises such as qigong and much more.
China is promoting the use of traditional Chinese medicine in treating COVID-19
Tongjitang (Guizhou) Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd, a unit of Sinopharm, has donated two batches of preventive TCM worth a total of 135,000 Chinese yuan (equivalent to almost 19,000 USD) to France. Meanwhile, Beijing Tong Ren Tang Chinese Medicine Co. Ltd has donated 4,000 doses of TCM to Singapore and Toronto, and a total of 20,000 doses of its cold granules were delivered to Seoul. Shijiazhuang Yiling Pharmaceutical has also donated Lianhuaqingwen capsules worth 1.78 million Chinese yuan (equivalent to almost 250,000 USD) to aid Iraq in contagion prevention and control efforts.
I would like to emphasize that I don’t think that China’s intentions are vicious. In fact, some of these compound herbal medicines, are said to be effective in treating Covid-19. Nonetheless, it is of crucial importance to talk about some of the problems with traditional Chinese medicine.
The problems with Traditional Chinese Medicine
One may ask “What is the harm of Traditional Chinese medicine anyway? The physical activities promoted by TCM aren’t inherently harmful, and traditional Chinese medicine consists primarily of ‘natural’ ingredients.”
This is without a doubt the biggest misunderstandings about TCM and traditional medicine as a whole. Just because something is ‘natural’, doesn’t make it harmless. As we will address in problem 3.
Researchers at the Murdoch University in Australia have found the following problems after using modern DNA sequencing technology to investigate traditional Chinese medicine.
1)The use of endangered species
Some TCM products contain material from animals classified as vulnerable or critically endangered, such as the Asiatic black bear and the Saiga antelope. Buying TCM would mean supporting a criminal action, and if you think you’re not buying such products because they are not mentioned on the label, you’re in for a surprise!
2)The use of unmentioned ingredients
Often, the medicine harbors ingredients not mentioned on the packaging. For example a product labeled 100 percent Saiga antelope contained considerable quantities of goat and sheep DNA. It truly is unclear what else is mixed in various forms of traditional Chinese medicine.
3)Toxic chemicals in ‘natural’ plants
The researchers also found members of 68 different plant families, among them plants of the genera Ephedra and Asarum. Both of these plants can contain toxic chemicals such as aristolochic acid, a compound banned in many countries because it causes kidney disease and cancer of the upper urinary tract (UUC).
One of the researchers said the following about the detection of these toxins:
“While detecting DNA from a certain species does not mean that a toxin produced by that plant is present, a chemical analysis of one of the four samples containing arum DNA did turn up aristolochic acid.”
This also explains higher rates of UUC in a country like Taiwan where the use of such herbal medicine is extremely high.
4)Chinese medicine injections have serious side effects
According to China’s 2019 Adverse reactions to medicine, more than 60 percent of side effects were caused by injection medicine. One of the three main traditional Chinese medicine that China is promoting requires injections, and the medicine therefore carries a very high health risk.
What should be done?
In situations like these, it is the responsibility of the World Health Organization to warn against such misinformation. Sadly because of the strong bond and relationship that currently exists between China and the WHO, it is not likely for the WHO to go against the Chinese Communist Party. Therefore it is our duty to inform each other on such misinformation. I encourage all readers to read the full article published by the Science magazine, and I urge you to do your own research and make your own decisions.
Even though China’s intentions aren’t malicious, the effects of promoting traditional Chinese medicine could be hazardous. The state of traditional Chinese medicine has certainly improved over the last few years and there certainly is reason to be optimistic. However, because TCM has a non-scientific approach to medicine, it is essential to be critical and proceed with great care.