Highlights of the International Conference and Exhibition of the Modernization of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Health Products

August 11-13, 2005; Wanchai, Hong Kong

Robert I. Fox, MD, PhD; Chak S. Lau, MBChB, MD, FRCP


September 16, 2005

In This Article

Introductory Comments of the Hong Kong Conference

The opening statements on the prospects for the modernization and internationalization of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in the 21st century were presented by She Jing, Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Health of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Director General of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ren Denquan, Deputy Commissioner (Retired), State Food and Drug Administration of the Peoples Republic of China.

Since 1998, the Chinese government has embarked on a program to modernize and standardize herbal preparations for pharmacologic application. The discussions were moderated by Professor Yu Chau Leung, Vice-President for the Integration of Chinese-Western Medicine, who has extensive training in both western medicine and TCM. These initial presentations acknowledged that there are actually several different issues that must be addressed.

First, the conceptual foundation of TCM is entirely different from that of western medicine. Also, mixtures of herbs are frequently adjusted (often every 2 weeks) based on the ongoing assessment of the TCM practitioner.

Second, many patients in China and in the United States use herbal medicines (which I call "nutriceuticals" to indicate their regulation as food supplements) as an adjunct to their western medication regimens.[2,3] The nutriceuticals historically were classified as "benign," "intermediate," or "potentially toxic" in the original herbal compendium that was written over 1000 years ago.[4] Virtually all of the herbs used as nutriceuticals are considered as benign. However, any single component (such as ginseng) may have different content in a given preparation based on the location of growth, time of harvest, and method of extraction.[5,6] Because these substances are herbal, they may be subject to contamination by heavy metals and pesticides, and there may be problems with sterility.[5,6] Additionally, unfortunately, we may also encounter problems associated with adulteration of the herbs by unscrupulous manufacturers who may add other compounds such as cortisone, phenylbutazone, or aminopyrine before selling the herb as a "pill." This problem is distinct from the intrinsic cortisone-like activity found in some herbs. The speakers emphasized that any unregulated industry, such as that of nutriceuticals, will have its share of unscrupulous manufacturers, and that many preparations sold overseas as "herbal medications" are being prescribed by individuals (both Chinese and non-Chinese) with minimal training in either herbal medicine or traditional Chinese medicine in general.


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