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Welcome back to my series on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) today I’d like to look at a few of the implications of Natural and Herbal Medicine, on animals and people.

Animals

I like Tigers and it seems a ridiculous thing for them to die out in the name of Traditional Chinese Medicine - particularly when it doesn't work. (Source: Wiki)

“Natural” has such a nice ring to it that many Westerners have decided to whole-heartedly embrace the concept of all things “natural” in medicine. This is because they have conveniently forgotten that all diseases are natural, and I don’t see a queue round the block for rabies, malaria, diphtheria or any of those other natural “miracles” we’d prefer not to catch.

In the case of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the damage to nature can often outweigh any of the perceived benefits. The Tiger is now an endangered species in much of Asia, and that’s because its penis is sought after as a supposed cure for impotence – it doesn’t actually have any medicinal properties and it’s much more expensive than Viagra, but that doesn’t stop people chasing after it.

Similarly TCM is responsible for the deaths of other endangered species, and in the case of the Asian Rhino population possibly for driving it into extinction (Rhino horn – see the phallic theme? Is in massive demand too). Seahorses and turtles are also having a particularly hard time thanks to this “natural” approach.

And here he is, the Asiatic Black Bear - can you believe he'd want to commit suicide? Give him a year on a TCM bile farm...

One of the saddest stories though is of the Asiatic black bear – this poor creature isn’t wanted for anything more than its bile. Thousands of bears are kept in unimaginably cruel conditions to be milked for their bile. If this wasn’t sad enough, these bears are actually driven to suicide by this procedure! That’s right this “natural” remedy drives animals to top themselves, something unheard of in the rest of nature. (And if you’re thinking “what about lemmings?” then think again – lemmings don’t kill themselves, no matter what you’ve heard.)

Humans

Leaving aside the fact that medicine prepared from human feces is probably not going to be all that good for you. And as in China there’s a huge proportion of endemic hepatitis many of the other “human based remedies” may not be all that good for you either.

What I’d like to look at is a lady in England, who has paid a very steep price for her faith in “natural” herbal medicine, prescribed by a “fully qualified” TCM practitioner. Patricia Booth is a 58 year old civil servant, who visited a Ying “Susan” Wu in Chelmsford, for some help in clearing up her skin. Susan gave her some herbal pills, which she assured Patricia were 100% safe for her to use.

In some respects this was a good thing for Patricia – her skin cleared up a treat. Sadly in exchange for this – she suffered from kidney failure and then had to have her kidneys removed, then she contracted cancer of the urinary tract and finally she had a heart attack. This was all due to the actions of these “natural” herbs on her body.

There's no suggestion that Susan Wu (pictured here) wanted to hurt her patient - it's simply that she had no idea what she was really doing. (Source: BBC)

Susan Wu received a two year suspended sentence for her part in this, as the magistrate ruled that because TCM is an unregulated industry in the UK (and most of the world) it was unlikely that Susan could have known about the terrible damage her “treatment” could cause someone.

So there you have it, so little is known about the effects of Traditional Chinese Medicine by anybody including those claiming to be “qualified” – that it can be fatal.

So I’m going to hazard a guess here – some tiny component of TCM may actually have medical benefits (and this will be discovered by pharmaceutical companies in the future), a large chunk will have only the benefits of the placebo effect (just like Mr. Chen’s sugar – though most of it won’t taste anywhere near as nice) and some of it will be downright dangerous as poor Patricia Booth discovered to her cost.

Given all of this and the unnecessary suffering caused to so many creatures in pursuit of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I’m going to urge you to buy Mr. Chen’s harmonized sugar – or at the very least pursue an equally safe placebo instead (homeopathy should do just fine – it’s basically a sugar pill too – honestly read up on it, and don’t use a homeopath for source material) rather than take the risk of ending up like Ms. Booth.

Tomorrow we’ll continue our guided tour of TCM with a look at acupuncture, and a personal experience.

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