Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Seeking the Evidence for Chinese Medicine

By Dave Hawkes

By looking for active ingredients in traditional Chinese medicines, ethnopharmacologists are finding evidence for their efficacy.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Evidence-based medicine is exactly that – treatments based on solid knowledge of both their safety and efficacy. But a number of popular treatments, such as different forms of traditional or herbal medicine, don’t fit within this evidence-based framework. The most well-known of these is traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which enjoys worldwide sales in the billions of dollars.

TCM has a number of issues that detract from its widespread acceptance, such as microbial or heavy metal contamination, inconsistent quantities of active ingredients, the use of endangered species and finally, with some TCM ingredients (such as Chinese mothwart) containing more than 140 biological compounds, increased risk of side-effects.

However, there is some evidence from small, preliminary studies that certain traditional Chinese remedies may provide novel treatments for a range of conditions. So how can we develop these potential treatments based on TCM so that they can be incorporated in evidence-based practice?

Ethnopharmacology can be broadly defined as the study of traditional medicines from a pharmacological perspective. There have been a number of success stories using this approach of examining traditional remedies and identifying and synthesising the active constituents. For example, the bark and leaves of the willow tree had been used to reduce pain and fever...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.