Are there tests to verify effects of traditional Chinese medicine?

The report on the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physician who asked a cancer patient to delay surgery raises broader concerns about the regulation and oversight of TCM practitioners in Singapore (TCM physician suspended for 3 years, fined $10,000 after asking cancer patient to delay surgery; Sept 24).

While there is currently a Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners Act in place to govern the conduct of TCM practitioners, the fact is that TCM remains a form of treatment for which there is no clear international scientific benchmark.

In recent years, a proliferation of TCM practitioners has led to this new genre of treatment becoming mainstream in Singapore.

I understand that some TCM practitioners are even prescribing health enhancers or supplements to be taken on a regular basis, even to young children.

Despite the fact that the benefits of these health enhancers are inconclusive, I know of children who have developed adverse symptoms, such as eczema, itchy skin and long-lasting flu, after taking such supplements.

It is difficult, however, for the layman to pinpoint symptoms and attribute direct causation to a certain TCM treatment or medication.

Unlike Western medicine, which undergoes rigorous testing globally - often over decades - before being allowed to be sold in the market, what checks and tests are there in place to verify the effectiveness and side effects of traditional Chinese medicine, which equally affects our health and safety?

Unlike Western medicine, which undergoes rigorous testing globally - often over decades - before being allowed to be sold in the market, what checks and tests are there in place to verify the effectiveness and side effects of traditional Chinese medicine, which equally affects our health and safety?

Richard Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2018, with the headline 'Are there tests to verify effects of traditional Chinese medicine?'. Print Edition | Subscribe