Traditional Chinese medicine regaining popularity in U.S.

Traditional Chinese medicine is regaining traction in the United States. Medical experts have said that acupuncture in particular has really taken off recently.
CCTV America’s Bianca Davie filed this report from Washington, D.C.

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Dr. Lin Hong runs one acupuncture facility located just outside of Washington, D.C. and says only about 10 percent of business comes from Asian clients. The majority of her patients have been Americans of other races who’ve been referred to her by their primary doctors.

According to the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, there are 27,835 certified acupuncturists in the United States, with the majority, or 37 percent in the state of California.

“Americans can accept traditional Chinese medicine because it works, especially for treatments of chronic pains. Then, they found the efficacy of traditional Chinese medicine in treating insomnia and anxiety disorders,” Dr. Lin said. “It opens the market for traditional Chinese medicine.”

Richard Spivack, a patient who came to Dr. Lin in search of relief after being treated for cancer said radiation drugs left his hands and feet feeling numb.

“I decided to reduce the amount of pills I was taking. I made a few phone calls and they recommended acupuncture. I tried several times and it worked,” Spivack said. “Now, I understand a little bit about the concept of ‘Qi’. I understand that Dr. Lin relies on pulse and tongue diagnosis because the body is a whole unit. Although I come to treat my feet, the doctor will use acupuncture on my head which will improve blood circulation of the entire body.”

Dr. Lin graduated from the Shanghai University School of Traditional Chinese Medicine but the U.S. still requires doctors like Lin to complete special courses and an exam before they’re able to practice in 43 of the 50 U.S. states that allow the practice of Chinese medicine.

According to the most recent data by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, there are more than 27,000 licensed practitioners of acupuncture in the U.S.

Traditional Chinese medicine is getting a voice at the World Health Organization

Traditional Chinese medicine has received a vote of confidence from the World Health Organization. China’s World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies, a Beijing organization that promotes traditional Chinese medicine, has established official relations with the WHO, and will now be able to attend WHO meetings, and “have a say in global decision-making on major health issues,” according to the group.

“The WHO recognizes the value and role traditional medicine can play in national health systems, especially in primary care,” WHO’s representative in China, Bernhard Schwartlander said, according to Chinese media. (The WHO was not immediately available for comment.)

Despite its over 3,000-year history, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, which ranges from acupuncture to herbal concoctions, Tai Qi, and dietary advice. The United States’ National Institute for Health says that “there is not enough rigorous scientific evidence to know whether TCM methods work for the conditions for which they are used.”

The Chinese government’s support for promoting TCM, popular in much of China and East Asia, dates back to the 1950s. But even Mao Zedong once admitted, “Even though I believe we should promote Chinese medicine… I personally do not believe in it. I don’t take Chinese medicine.”

Over the past few years, as TCM has become more popular, scientists have collected evidence that at least some chemical components of herbs and materials used in TCM are effective. Last month, a study found that the chemical tetrandrine, found in the stephania root, known in Chinese as hanfangji andused as an anti-inflammatory remedy,can help ward off the Ebola virus. Last year, a study found that TCM helped reduce angina, or chest pain in test subjects.

And in 2008, a group of researchers found that 1,235 chemical components  in TCMs were either included or structurally similar to those in the Comprehensive Medicinal Chemistry database for approved chemical agents. “All of these findings suggest that TCM, at least in part, has a scientific basis,” those researchers wrote in 2008.

But doubts about TCM, and how it is regulated, remain. Producers of TCMs have been known to add toxins, undisclosed drugs, and heavy metals in some cases, to increase the appearance of effectiveness.

Skepticism is compounded by the fact that the popularity of TCM is believed to drive much of the trade in endangered animals parts. A study by researchers at Murdoch University in Australia in 2012 found that 78% of samples tested included animal DNA that was not listed—as well as unlisted ingredients like ephedra, a poisonous herb banned in the US, and aristolochic acid, a carcinogen.