This is the first article in the series of investigative reports on Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM). These reports are compiled by Adam Dlamini.
TCM has been spread to 183 countries and regions around the world. According to World Health Organization, 103 member states have given approval to various treatment methods of the TCM and 29 have even enacted special statutes to promote the same. Countries like South Africa, Mozambique, Cameroon, Nigeria, Tanzania and Togo have signed agreements with China to develop TCM. The growth of TCM has been reckless over the years, but the central question remained unanswered, i.e. is TCM really beneficial as projected by China or are there any severe side effects of TCM ? We’ll try to uncover the truth by exploring various dimensions in which TCM has adversely affected the human health.
Scientists over the years have spent millions of dollars on randomized trials of TCM medicines and therapies, with little success. Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore surveyed 70 systematic reviews measuring the effectiveness of TCM. None of those studies could reach a solid conclusion because the evidence was either too sparse or of poor quality. Many systematic reviews of TCM interventions published in Chinese journals are incomplete, some contained errors or were totally misleading.
However, Second Generation DNA sequencing studies have detected the presence of heavy metals and plant toxins in various TCM formulations, which have numerous adverse impacts on the human health. Presence of these toxins and chemicals is not indicated on the packing of TCM products due to the lack of regulations. Arthur Grollman, a cancer researcher at Stony Brook University in New York, has published work showing how Aristolochic acid, an ingredient in many TCM remedies, can cause kidney failure and cancer. China’s drug watchdog reported that TCM injections were responsible for 127,000 Adverse Drug Reactions (ADR) cases, up 5.3% year-on-year, the most significant increase across all types of drugs.
In a paper titled “2019_nCoV/SARS-CoV-2: rapid classification of betacoronaviruses and identification of Traditional Chinese Medicine as potential origin of zoonotic coronaviruses” the authors Trudy Wassenaar and Y. Zhou argue that the bats used in TCM, and their handling poses a potential risk to cause zoonotic coronavirus epidemics and may well be the cause of ongoing COVID19 pandemic. What is more amusing is that the revenue and export of the TCM increased during the pandemic as China projected it as a remedy against Coronavirus without detailed studies. In late April 2020, a senior doctor at a hospital in Hubei province was reprimanded and even demoted for posting online that TCM remedies for treating COVID19, were not science-based. Recently, COVID19 variant Omicron’s wave picked up in the world. China is trying to seize this opportunity to boost its TCM trade. It has started trials of COVID19 TCM drugs on the citizens of Pakistan and as the famous saying by Benjamin Franklin goes “The borrower is a slave to the lender and the debtor to the creditor”. Thus, the readers are the best judge to solve the COVID19 conundrum!!
The TCM contains heavy metals and plant toxins which can cause skin rashes, allergies and renal infections. Various cases around the world also suggest that TCM can be fatal and contain carcinogens. Wu Xiaoliang, a 37-year-old farmer, died some years back after taking a TCM medicine for a minor headache. What killed Wu was later described in his autopsy report as a “drug allergy.” An increased risk of liver and bladder neoplasm among physicians of TCM was observed in a 20-year national follow-up study.
According to research titled “Safety Concerns of Traditional Chinese Medicine Injections Used in Chinese”, TCM injections pose serious risks to the pediatric population and produce ADRs like anaphylactic shock and fatal anaphylaxis. Such reactions are reported in a lot of pediatric population over the years in China and Africa but are seldom paid attention!
Recently, a woman in China used TCM treatment called gua-sha to treat her 10-month-old granddaughter’s cough and caused serious injury to the infant in the process. The baby girl’s forehead festered, and she was sent to Hunan Children’s Hospital.
In 2016, the death of a young Chinese actress Xu Ting, 26, from cancer who was only taking TCM based treatment sparked a debate on the Chinese social media with the hashtag #XuTing’sDeathAndChineseMedicine trending on Weibo. Such dependence on TCM to treat chronic diseases has taken many lives around the globe.
NGOs and social activists in South Africa, Nigeria and Tanzania working in the field of health said that TCM medicines has caused a lot of deaths in African countries, but they go unnoticed due to lack of data reporting and poor health infrastructure. TCM, thus, needs to be regulated in such countries. On the other hand, people should reduce their dependence on such formulations, as they can result in zoonotic diseases and severe to fatal Adverse Drug Reactions.
Mass awareness campaigns and boycott drives should be launched to generate awareness about the adverse impacts of TCM on human health and on the nature. It is projected as a beneficial remedy for diseases by China, but it only serves as a beneficial remedy for improving the exports and financial gains for it. Thus, common people especially from the African countries where the damage is much more intense should stand up and stop using TCM formulations to safeguard themselves, their biodiversity and their economies.
Adam Dlamini compiled this report from various credible sources and original report
Adam Dlamini (Africa Analyst of Ij-reportika)