The impact of TCM

The impact of TCM

The impact of traditional Chinese therapeutic practices in universal medicine
by S. S. M. Nanayakkara

By the time of Confucius (551-479 B.C.), Chinese medicine was extricated from the shackles of magic, superstition and voodoo - a dynamic system in medicine came of age. Western historians attribute the first authoritative Materia Medica to the Greek physicians, Dioscodedes (129 A.D.) and his counterpart Galen (199 A.D.), yet Chinese texts on medicine predate those of the Greeks, Romans and Arabs by several centuries.

Chinese medical texts elaborated on the prophylactic treatment for infections over two centuries before the Englishman Edward Jenner discovered vaccination for smallpox in the nineteenth century. Early Chinese medical texts have been extensive, they consist of herbal, mineral and animal sources. About 1000 herbals are included in Li-Shizen's compilation of 'Pen-tsao knomu'. The Great Pharmacopoeia in the 16th century. This monumental work which consists of 52 volumes has frequently been revised and re-printed. It is still held authoritative in Chinese medicine.

The early Chinese know-how in the field of medicine made its inroads into the Arab world and the West by way of the time honoured and romantic Silk Road - the Golden road to Samarkand and beyond to the mysterious East. This spectacular land route that spanned the Mediterranean and the far East by almost four thousand miles was christened 'Die Siedenstrasse' - the Silk Road by the 19th century German explorer Baron Ferdinand Von Richthoften. The manufacture of silk was a jealously guarded secret of the early Chinese and the lucrative trade in this highly priced commodity was their sole monopoly. Silk in early times was worth a hundredfold its weight in gold, it drained the purses of its grandee customers in the West and the coffers of kings. It was transported to the West through this hazardous route, hence the genesis of its name - The Silk Road.

Chinese medicine attained its peak after Li-Shizen published his Great Pharmacopoeia. This was subsequently translated and made use of by the Koreans and Japanese.

Modern research has confirmed the efficacy of several traditional Chinese plant based drugs used in the treatment of various diseases. Artemisinin - a drug derived from the Chinese sweet wormwood plant Artemisia annua is now used in the treatment of malaria in place of quinine the once miraculous antimalaria agent discovered in the bark of a South American tree more than three centuries ago. It is said that during the brief China - Vietnam conflict in 1979, the Chinese government gave its soldiers pills based on artemisinin as a cure for malaria. It worked. Artemisinin is now being tested as possible treatment for cancer and leukemia.

Artemisinin, researchers theorize has the potential effect of destroying cancer cells. It may prove to be a victor in the endless war against mankind's dreaded killer - cancer.

The Chinese wormwood plant from which artemisinin is extracted was used in Chinese medicine for over two thousand years.

The drug termed Joins which is extracted from tricosanthes and clematics roots, traditional Chinese medicinal plants used over the long corridor of time has recently been discovered to be an effective cure for arthritis. Chinese researchers claim that Joins protects the human joints and is an effective remedy for joint tissue degradation in humans.

Among the plants traditionally used by the Chinese for ages and presently made use of in Western medicine are - Rhubarb Ricinus communis, Camphor an extract of the camphor laurel plant and Indian hemp Cannabis sativa a potent narcotic. Chaulmoogra oil extracted from various Indian trees and plants indigenous to Bangladesh, was used for the treatment of leprosy by the Chinese from the 14th century. Its use spread to the rest of Asia and through the Arabs to the mid East.

An extract from the plant Ephedra vulgaris, found in the arid regions of central and south China is used in the treatment of asthma in China from over 3000 years. The recent isolation of the alkaloid ephedrine from this plant has contributed to the Western treatment of hay fever immensely.

Acupuncture, a branch of therapy unique to the Chinese system of medical treatment, has been practised in China for more than 2000 years, but is only now beginning to gain acceptance by Western medical authorities as a legitimate means of treating pain, nausea, asthma and a host of other ailments. Recently the US National Institutes have acknowledged that acupuncture alleviates some of the agonising side effects of Chemotherapy - yet researchers are unable to pinpoint the reason why the needless used in acupuncture work in the way they do.

The progress of the public health service in China, though still inadequate in some regions, has been made possible by the harmonisation of traditional and modern medicine.

It provides a glowing example for the traditional ayurvedic system of medicine on which, according to W.H.O. statistics, sixty five per cent of the population of South Asia depends.