Incorporating Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in modern day society: thoughts of a fellow molecular biologist

In June 2018, World Health Organization (WHO) released new International classification of Diseases (ICD 11), in which Chapter 26 includes now the standardized wordings for diseases and diagnoses from TCM perspectives. In May this year, it caught the attention of the mass media. While TCM practitioners and supporters celebrated the news, physicians and medical scientists criticized this latest update of ICD. Furthermore, animal activists worried that this decision will lead to extinction of several species of animals that have supposed ‘medicinal’ value in TCM.

TCM has been practiced alongside with mainstream medicine in parts of East Asia for many years, where its basic concepts of TCM was passed down from parents to children. These concepts, although explaining diseases and pathologies in different perspectives and with different terminologies, were accepted by many people who received advanced modern scientific education and training. However, TCM has yet to standardize and modernize its language used in diagnosis and to conduct large scale, systematic studies on the authentication and characterization of TCM formulae and/or individual ingredients. Therefore, TCM has not been recognized as an established system of medicine that can benefit the general population in most parts of the world yet.

In the following short pieces, I will try to (1) introduce the difference between TCM in modern scientific research, the formulae / herbal soup that are conventionally used in TCM practice and the herbal supplements that are available over-the-counter in health stores ; (2) progress made on categorizing and standardization of the medicinal ingredients; (3) challenges for training qualified TCM practitioners and pharmacists.

The discussions are based on the 3 assumptions: (1) The knowledge accumulated by generations of TCM practitioners were valid, although, until recent decades, it has not been acquired and studied in a scientific manner; (2) TCM is a method of maintaining people’s general health for more than one thousand years and; (3) TCM is a system of medical practice that supports the health of a large population in East Asia before industrial revolution or development of modern medicine. The TCM ingredients in the formulae discussed will mostly be parts of various plants.

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