Wednesday, November 01, 2006
It came as no surprise to me to hear that some unscrupulous Chinese medicine practitioners in Northern Ireland have been dosing their Oriental snake oils for impotence with Viagra.
This doesn't surprise me for two reasons. Firstly, I have first hand experience that Chinese medicine doesn't work, and secondly, Chinese people rarely pass up a genuine business opportunity.
If the GP's research is correct, and I appreciate the vested interests involved in his motivation for researching this, then it seems like some naughty Chinese medicine practitioners saw fit to take a substance that ought only be sold subject to a doctor's prescription and add it to some amusingly exotic looking and sounding herbal treatments to make them actually work, while simultaneously quadrupling the price for gullible Westerners.
Nice mark-up if you can get it. Since there are no formal qualification requirements to open up a Chinese medical practice, anybody of an Asian extraction can open up premises with some inscrutable Asian qualifications mounted on the wall, and sell quack cures to the gullible with relative impugnity.
And it's only when they get supergreedy and start adding generic Viagra to their impotence snake oil, and a vigilant doctor catches them out, does anyone stop to think of the potential dangers of these charlatans.
Does Chinese 'medicine' work? No doubt some of their herbal remedies have certain physiological effects. In fact, some of them are actually downright dangerous. And when they include prescription drugs, you can see how dangerous it can be to permit people with no medical training to be handing these substances out.
Once, on a trip to Beijing, I decided to visit the Great Wall of China and the Ming era tombs of the Emperors. Like so many tourists before me, I was kidnapped into a traditional Chinese medicine centre near the tombs, so that the operation could try to sell us shit we didn't need.
Or as they put it, 'to permit us the pleasure and excitement of diagnosis of our ails by the most estimable doctors of China.'
The brief backstory is that I was actually viciously hungover and also suffering the after-effects of a kidney infection I'd caught in Russia. My travelling companion, however, was in rude good health.
The experts of the clinic, dressed in white lab coats gave us a talk and then mingled to 'diagnose' us, by drumming lightly on our pulse points with three fingers. These people made a great deal out of having treated Chairman Mao no less back in the Seventies. It seemed churlish to point out he died shortly afterwards.
I was declared hail and hearty by my attendant consultant, albeit in need of something anti-inflammatory for my entirely unpained ankle. Its yin and yang were allegedly out of kilter, requiring a $20 purchase of some random ointment that was swiftly produced from a box and waved in my face.
My colleague, however, was warned severely about heart, kidney and liver troubles, and it was sternly advised that she part with nigh on $100 for seemingly randomly chosen boxes of pills and tinctures.
I refused and so did she, at first politely then with increasing annoyance and frustration. It became evident that our tour group was captured until someone parted with money for some quack cure.
Eventually, an American gave in and on we went. I noticed that he smartly dumped the 'cure' in a bin at the tomb site, later.
As with all placebo cures, there will be some who will claim miraculous results from the kindly attentions of their local well- (or ill-) meaning Chinese quack doctor with his amazing exotic array of Oriental herbs and preparations, so evocative of a medieval apothecary.
But the bottom line for me is that Chinese medicine is not evidence based medicine.
And medicine that is not evidence based,
medicine that seeks to diagnose by drumming on the pulse points only,
medicine that proffers expensive and potentially dangerous cures without first investigating whether patients are already taking medications,
medicine that thinks it is okay to adulterate snake oil cures with knocked-off prescription drugs,
- such medicine is bad medicine indeed.