Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners have a long history of overrepresentation, especially in the case of fertility and virility, where the demand for tiger penises and rhino horns has devastated wild populations.
Quackery and false claims exist in all branches of medicine, but European doctors fear that unverified claims made under the guise of TCM are being spread around the world through social media, inadvertently aided by the Organization World Health Organization (WHO).
The inclusion of TCM “could lead some to see it as a legitimization of what are in effect unsubstantiated claims,” the European Academies Scientific Advisory Council (EASAC) and the Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) warned in a joint statement this month. .
“There is a risk of misleading patients and physicians and increasing pressure for reimbursement by public health systems at a time of limited resources,” the statement said.
“Social media now makes it very easy to get (misleading information),” said George Griffin, professor of infectious diseases and medicine at St. George’s, University of London. “Unscrupulous people who want to sell these products can easily put things on social media without any formal verification.”
One of the basic tenets of Traditional Chinese Medicine, as it is generally defined, is that life energy, or qi, flows through channels in the body that connect to various organs and functions. TCM therapies, such as cupping, acupuncture, or herbal treatments, seek to activate these channels or balance someone’s qi.
Although the methods have been used for hundreds of years, critics argue that there is no verifiable scientific evidence that qi actually exists.
What worries many scientists and physicians, however, is that instead of these experiments and discoveries bolstering the reputation of an individual medicine, they are often held up as proof of the validity of the whole field of medicine. TCM, much of which has no scientific basis. and can be potentially dangerous.
“The treatments included in the broad category of TCM are very different from each other,” the European doctors said. “They can only be considered to form a therapy group from the perspective of (‘traditional’) history/ethnology and (Chinese) geography.”
Griffin, who helped draft the joint European statement, told CNN that “our concern is that by having this in the ICD, people who are not critical, who are not medical or scientific, can take this as a sign that the WHO has full confidence in Traditional Chinese Medicine.”
Despite this, Dan Larhammer, president of EASAC, an umbrella body representing the national academies of science of EU member states, as well as Norway and Switzerland, said it was “highly likely to be interpreted in this way by the supporters of the TCM”.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency appeared to confirm concerns about the move being interpreted as an endorsement by saying it was “a major step for the globalization of traditional Chinese medicine”.
“What if effective, proven, and inexpensive cancer therapies were available to you? Would you choose them over toxic chemotherapy and radiation therapy?” The Truth About Cancer says. claim that the ‘war on cancer’ is largely a fraud and that multinational pharmaceutical companies are ‘running the show’.”
The Truth About Cancer did not respond to a request for comment. Many other pages on Facebook make similar claims, both about the potential effectiveness of TCM and against common medical practices.
Tech companies have started cracking down on misleading medical claims. In September, Google announced that it was banning “advertising for unproven or experimental medical techniques such as most stem cell therapies, (non-stem) cell therapies, and gene therapies,” and Facebook has also taken action. Committed to “minimising health content that is sensational or misleading.”
While many patients may see benefits from using alternative treatments, including TCM, alongside other medications, risks arise when people avoid the procedure because they self-medicate with unscientific remedies.
“The biggest risk is that people and patients rely on unproven methods and refrain from using evidence-based methods,” said Larhammer, president of EASAC.
“Patients waste time and money by relying on unnecessary methods that can, at best, provide a placebo response that is usually transient. Some methods of alternative medicine, including TCM, involve side effects, especially plant extracts.”