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Chinese Medicine Makers Go Mainstream, But Is It Safe?

Tim Boyer's picture
Good and bad points about TCM

Are you considering Traditional Chinese Medicine for your health? A recent news announcement states that you can expect to see a lot more Chinese medicine hawked in the near future. But is it safe? Here’s what the NIH has to say about it.


A recent Reuters’ news video tells viewers that Chinese techniques like cupping, acupuncture and herbal remedies are expected to become more easily accessible and prevalent in the U.S. as Chinese medicine makers are looking for ways to capture the growing western market for well-being products.

Reuters News Video: Chinese medicine makers go mainstream

But Is It Safe?

According to an NIH’s National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health web page titled “Traditional Chinese Medicine: In Depth,” people in the United States use TCM primarily as a complementary health approach to supplement the care they get from their primary care physician. The three primary methods of TCM used are acupuncture, herbal supplements and Tai chi or qi gong.

After analyzing numerous studies on each of the three methods, here is their view on how effective and safe each of the methods are:

1. Acupuncture―an extremely popular TCM treatment method, acupuncture is a family of procedures involving the stimulation of specific points on the body using a variety of techniques such as needles that are manipulated by the hands, or by electrical stimulation. However, in spite of its popularity, an analysis of studies merely suggests possible benefits but could not reach definite conclusions because of the small quantity or poor quality of the studies performed.

The bright side of this, however, is that acupuncture is considered to be generally safe when performed by an experienced practitioner using sterile needles. However, if performed inadequately, acupuncture can cause serious side effects.

2. Herbal Supplements―Herbal supplements are a real problem and overall are not considered safe. The NIH warns that the regulations for dietary supplements are much less stringent than that of medicines. In other words, manufacturers don’t have to prove to the FDA that most claims made for dietary supplements are valid.

While the NIH states that some Chinese herbal products may be safe, others may not be and in fact there are numerous cases of Indian and Chinese herbal products being contaminated with drugs, toxins, heavy metals, as well as not containing the listed ingredients, or containing hidden ingredients such as unsafe levels of prescription drug ingredients.

3. Tai chi or qi gong―Tai chi and qi gong are considered to be generally safe practices. Tai chi especially so with its gentle, dance-like body movements with mental focus, breathing, and relaxation techniques taught. Analysis of scientific literature suggests that practicing tai chi may help to improve balance and stability in people with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, as well as help reduce pain from knee osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia; and, promote quality of life in people with cardiac health issues.

If You Are Thinking About Using TCM

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According to the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health web page, if you are thinking about using TCM here are their recommendations:

• Do not use TCM to replace effective conventional care or as a reason to postpone seeing a health care provider about a medical problem.

• Look for published research studies on TCM for the health condition that interests you.

• It is better to use TCM herbal remedies under the supervision of your health care provider or a professional trained in herbal medicine than to try to treat yourself.

• Ask about the training and experience of the TCM practitioner you are considering. You can find information about the credentials and licensing of complementary health practitioners on the NCCIH Web site.

• If you are pregnant or nursing, or are thinking of using TCM to treat a child, you should be especially sure to consult your (or the child’s) health care provider.

• Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

Three Reasons to Avoid TCM

For, an informative article about considering Chinese medicine as part of your health care, here’s one as a warning about 3 Reasons Why You Should Avoid Chinese Traditional Medicines.


Reuters “Chinese Medicine Makers Go Mainstream

NIH.gov “Traditional Chinese Medicine: In Depth

Image courtesy of Pixabay