Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles have recently verified that a Chinese herbal regimen called TSY-1 (Tianshengyuan-1) has anti-cancer properties and may be helpful in treating blood cell deficiencies.

TSY-1 has been used in the management of aplastic anaemia in China for years prior to this discovery. This discovery adds to the growing evidence base for Chinese herbal medicine (CHM).

Chinese herbal medicine has spread to more than 100 countries

Traditional Chinese medicine dates back to more than 2,500 years ago and has Taoism roots. Chinese herbal medicine has long been an integral part of Asia.

Despite that, the efficacy of such treatments have long been in doubt due to a lack of research and marred by horror stories of Chinese medicine containing illicit compounds. However, a boom in research on CHM in recent decades may soon prove these assumptions wrong.

Today, China has produced more than 8,000 varieties of CHM that has been exported to more than 100 countries. China has invested a large amount of time, money and effort in boosting research and development in CHM.

In 2007, China collected 3563 extracts, 64,715 compositions, and 5,000 single compounds from 3,000 Chinese herbs, together with about 130 kinds of chemical drugs obtained from either CHM ingredients or their derivatives.

The successes and failures of Chinese herbal medicine

CHM has a few major victories. At the forefront is the discovery that sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua) could heal malaria. Ms. Youyou Tu, who first discovered this association in a 2,000-year-old document, was China’s first researcher to receive a Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine for her work.

At the same time, there are vast amounts of reports on the dubious contents of CHM. A study in Australia found that 61% of CHM preparations contained excessive levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead. Other toxins such as pesticides, herbicides, mycotoxins and insects have also been found in CHM products.

China working towards standardisation of traditional Chinese medicine

Drug discovery can take up to a decade and cost up to USD 800 million. Despite that, the healthcare industry is constantly looking to explore new avenues of medicinal products to provide better, cheaper and more efficacious therapy. CHM serves as a rich, untapped sector for research – countries such as China, India, the United States and even Nigeria have invested into research in traditional herbal medicines.

Until more solid evidence can be provided, CHM products should be treated with caution. Consumers should strive to purchase such products from legitimate, licensed providers and not consume more than the recommended amount.

Physicians on the other hand should work towards educating the public on the dangers of unauthorised CHM products and reporting products that may come with a safety risk. MIMS

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