Five years into incorporating traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) into Hong Kong’s medical system, only 3.9 percent of the population preferred TCM when they experienced medical problems, according to a survey published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
Despite policies to promote “collaboration” between western medicine and TCM, only one in 10 local doctors actually refer their patients to a TCM practitioner, according to study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Eighty percent of doctors polled said they have never even considered making a referral.
A huge stumbling block for TCM — even after 2,000 years of tradition — is that there’s no scientific evidence that traditional Chinese medicine actually works.
Another is that its own practitioners disagree widely on what diagnosis and treatments should be used for any given patient.
Yet another is that traditional practitioners don’t display a whole heck of a lot of confidence in TCM either.
Dr. Ning Fanggang, chief surgeon at Beijing Jishuitan Hospital, recently offered 100,000 yuan (US$16,300) to anyone who resolves the common claim that traditional practitioners can tell if a woman is pregnant just by taking her pulse, the GlobalPost reported.
“If [someone is] successful, I will never state that Traditional Chinese Medicine is a fake science,” Ning promised.
So far, after more than a month, only one person has taken Ning up — but he appears to be backing out.
According to GlobalPost, Yang Zhen, the first to sign up for Ning’s pregnancy challenge, claimed that the sample size of “just” 32 women meant the results would “lack persuasiveness”.
Just as persuasive was Yang’s excuse that hospital regulations might forbid him from “practicing” outside.
“Pulse diagnosis and other similar aspects of TCM are, in my opinion, an excellent example of what happens when ‘knowledge’ is disconnected from reality,” wrote Steven Novella in Science-Based Medicine, commenting on the pregnancy challenge.
“There is no scientific legitimacy to TCM generally and pulse diagnosis specifically.”
Despite the evidence, or lack thereof, TCM still has enough believers to support a US$80 billion industry in mainland China and Hong Kong.
For the uninitiated, aside from funky herbal concoctions consisting of potentially toxic plants, animal parts and mineral Chinese medicinals, the world of TCM also includes acupuncture, massage, exercise (qigong) and dietary therapy.
“Traditional Chinese medical theories see the body as composed of the interaction of different elements, processes, and fluids: the elements of fire, water, earth, metal, and wood; the interplay of yin, yang, and ‘qi’ [the life force],” wrote James Palmer in a story for Aeon.
As voodooish as that may sound, researchers in some of the most highly respected universities in China, and increasingly in Europe and the United States, are wedding western techniques for analyzing complex biological systems to the Chinese notion of seeing the body as a networked whole, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Personally, when I get sick, the thought that my yin and yang might be out of balance doesn’t even come to mind.
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