Why is traditional medicine from the East is under threat both here and in China
Before anyone accuses me of prejudice, I would like to say that I do have sympathy for a balanced, holistic oriental approach to wellbeing. But as a health journalist with 20 years’ experience, the popularity of Chinese medicine and its lack of regulation fill me with alarm.
I decided to test my concerns by consulting three Chinese herbal-medicine practitioners, all only five minutes’ walk from my home in Brighton. At each, I complained of fatigue and bloatedness (symptoms I attribute to being a man in his forties). The first tested my pulse, looked at my tongue and asked about my symptoms. She pronounced that my body was contaminated by a cold I’d had five months ago, and that my energy channels were blocked. She wanted to charge £88 for herbs, pills, acupuncture and massage.
The second charged £10 for a consultation in which he examined my blood pressure. He said that I suffered “weak kidney energy” and an excess of damp in my stomach, and prescribed a two-week course of herbs for £17 and a £150 course of acupuncture. In the third consultation, the practitioner pronounced that I had “spleen insufficiency and weak pulse”. He wanted £325 for herbs, pills and acupuncture.
He was the only one to require my GP’s address or to ask if I was taking Western medications — crucial information as components in Chinese medicine can interact dangerously with conventional drugs. None of the practitioners would discuss their medicines’ ingredients. It’s this sort of apparent randomness that has British lobbying organisations such as Sense About Science — a charitable trust run by academics and scientists — arguing that Chinese herbalism should not be defined as “medicine”, as it gives many practitioners a credibility that they do not merit. Yet about 6,000 Chinese herbal medicine stores have sprung up on the high streets of Britain in recent years, a popularity that might suggest that they are in rude health.