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MedicyearOfTheHorse iconContrary to popular belief, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is not an entirely separate entity from modern medicine. In fact, many of the drugs doctors prescribe, have their roots firmly entrenched in TCM.

For example, artemisinin, an anti-malarial drug is derived from qinghao, a Chinese herb. Similarly, lovastatin, which is derived from oysters, mushrooms and rice, is used in both TCM and modern medicine to lower cholesterol levels.

When it comes to treating asthma, while traditional Chinese medicine employs acupuncture, it also uses a derivative of the khella plant, which is popularly known as cromoglycate. The synthetic form of this plant is used in modern medicine to cure asthma. Etoposide is prescribed by doctors the world over to fight against cancer. This drug is derived from the mandrake plant which is used in its natural and milder form in TCM.

Opiates, modern medicine’s weapon against extreme pain, have their roots in China. The Chinese perfected the science of extracting juices from unripe poppy seeds. They also learnt to extract a drug, hirudin, from the salivary glands of leeches and used it as an anticoagulant. Today, hirudin is produced by genetic engineering to prevent blood clots.

As TCM tries to gain mainstream acceptance in the West (where there are stricter regulations), it has already established itself as standard treatment for patients looking for ‘something natural’ or where modern medicine has failed to provide a cure.

Integration of both types of medicine is being offered increasingly. For example, at the Shanghai Cancer Hospital, patients are treated with radiation therapy, modern drugs as well as traditional herbal formulas.

However, TCM cannot be treated as a substitute for critical life-and-death measures that are used in modern medicine.  And here is where choice ends.

– Dr Summaiya Syed-Tariq
The writer is a senior forensic practitioner working at the Police Surgeon Office, Karachi.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of THE DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on January 26, 2014.