European Experts Demand Consistent Proof of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Edzard Ernst

The Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) and the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council issued a joint statement on November 7, 2019, urging the World Health Organization (WHO) to clarify how traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and other so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) should be used.

The WHO has included TCM diagnoses in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). (See “Quackery at WHO: A Chinese Affair,” SI, September/October 2019.) The WHO claim this is not an endorsement, but experts point out that the move will promote TCM and mislead the public into thinking that TCM is safe and effective. Thus, consumers might use it as an alternative for effective treatments of serious conditions, in which case they would endanger their lives.

Prof. George Griffin, the president of FEAM, was quoted saying:

We don’t give drugs and surgical treatments unless there is real evidence that they work and do no damage and basically the feeling is that most of the traditional Chinese medicine drugs are unregulated. They are not tested properly for toxicity. They probably vary greatly between batches produced, for example seaweed, which is the latest, and they may be harmful. The other side of the equation is that they may be deluding patients into thinking they are taking appropriate therapies for serious disease.

“Multiple risks of harm from herbal ingredients have been documented,” the joint statement warns. Sometimes herbal remedies have been adulterated with chemicals. Interaction with conventional drugs can be a serious threat. And acupuncture, they will say, “is not necessarily harmless.” A review in 2017 as well as numerous papers discussed on my blog found injuries to vital organs, infections, and other adverse reactions.

Although those who use SCAM are being misled into thinking of it as originating from small-scale enterprises, globally it is big business. “The production and delivery of TCM has become a large industry with estimates of $60 billion a year and an annual growth rate above 10%,” says the statement.

The statement authors “urge the European Commission and member states to do more to ensure that all medical products and procedures are subject to an appropriate level of evaluation for quality, safety, and efficacy consistent with standardized testing procedures.”

For more details, see the website edzardernst.com or the full statement at easac.eu/publications/.

Edzard Ernst

Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD, is emeritus professor in the Complementary Medicine unit, Peninsula Medical School, Exeter, U.K.


The Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) and the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council issued a joint statement on November 7, 2019, urging the World Health Organization (WHO) to clarify how traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and other so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) should be used. The WHO has included TCM diagnoses in the International Classification of Diseases …

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