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Traditional Chinese Medicine: What Works

Based on the reliable TCM clinical research, the findings indicate:

  • One widely used Chinese herbal remedy that has shown promise in cancer treatment is Juzentaihoto, or JT-48 or JTT. Traditionally used in anemia, loss of appetite, and extreme exhaustion, this herbal remedy is proving helpful for cancer when it is used in combination with chemotherapy and radiation. It also helps to prevent leukemia in cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy, according to Yamada in 1989.


  • In a controlled clinical trial at the National Cancer Center Hospital in Tokyo, patients with advanced metastatic breast cancer were given chemotherapy and endocrine therapy alone, or in combination with Juzentaihoto. After thirty-eight months, the survival rate was significantly higher in the group receiving the Chinese herbal remedy. Herbal patients also showed improved quality of life, and were protected from the suppression of bone marrow, which is associated with chemotherapy.


  • At the University of Texas, Chen found that an extract of the Chinese herb astragalus increased the anticancer activity of killer cells. When people with cancer took astragalus, they required only one-tenth as much toxic chemotherapy.


  • In Chinese cancer hospitals, chemotherapy and radiation are often combined with TCM herbs, thus permitting lower doses of chemotherapy.


  • Among people with HIV and AIDS, acupuncture and Chinese herbs are also considered the most promising unconventional approach. TCM reduces side effects of conventional medications and increases their efficacy.

Unfortunately, several problems have hampered research on TCM and AIDS. In a study by Dr. Donald Abrams in San Francisco, TCM clinicians were reluctant to apply a uniform herbal treatment, instead of one that was individualized. Furthermore, the FDA required lengthy testing of the herbs that were used in the study, despite the fact that they were already available in health food stores. In another study by Abrams, the TCM herbs that were tested were used at a dosage that was too low by TCM standards. In another, similarly ill-conceived study, researchers at San Francisco General Hospital tested the TCM herb tang kuei for treating menopausal symptoms and concluded that it had no effect. However, although the study employed sound methodology with reasonable dosage, it ignored the fact that tang kuei is not used alone for treating menopause in China, but is included as a minor constituent. Apparently the study was undertaken on the basis of reports that women in San Francisco were attempting to use the herb to treat menopausal symptoms. In this case, the application of the reductionist Western medical model reduced the research to meaninglessness. These problems indicate the clash of philosophies between TCM and Western medicine, as well as the politicization that often clouds research.

Despite these research difficulties, however, many Western clinicians remain convinced of TCM's efficacy. According to Dr. Christina Stemmler, Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, is at least as good as Western medicine, if not better, for quickly resolving 90 percent of the common health problems that most patients suffer, without producing the cascade of side effects caused by Western drugs.

Prevention is another strength of Chinese medicine, since it can help to identify warning signals and reverse underlying problems before disease begins. Moreover, TCM's diagnostic procedures may help to detect very subtle symptoms that conventional diagnoses miss.

Serious, advanced diseases are more difficult to treat with TCM, but TCM can provide important supportive treatment. Even if TCM cannot reverse cancer, it can help to relieve pain, improve appetite, improve general functioning, and increase the sense of well being. However, the efficacy of Chinese medicine is much more limited in surgery, emergency medicine, and trauma care - areas where Western medicine excels.

In addition, TCM is not always effective at quickly solving serious problems. Some ailments may require up to two years of regular, vigorous treatment. In our time-driven Western culture, Chinese medicine may try the patience of many people.

Furthermore, research has not definitively demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of TCM. It does appear, though, as if the costs of TCM are usually reasonable. Office visits to licensed acupuncturists generally average about $55, with the first visit typically being 50 percent higher. Office visits may be recommended at a rate of one per week, for the administration of acupuncture, moxibustion, massage, and the prescribing of herbs. If herbs alone are used, office visits might be at three- to four-week intervals. Herbal prescriptions typically cost the patient about $2 to $4 a day. If a standard course of therapy is one to three months, then the total cost of TCM treatment would be about $300 to $800. Compared to conventional medicine, these costs are modest. Some insurance companies cover TCM, and others offer discounts on the services of certain providers. Also, several clinics in the United States, especially at TCM colleges, offer discounted fees. In addition, subsidized clinics exist for treating addictions and HIV infection. Some individual practitioners also treat patients on a sliding scale.





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Copyright © 2000 by Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, Inc.

Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, New York.


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