While China pushes for the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a treatment for Covid-19, some scientists discourage its use, citing the dangers surrounding the ancient practice.

The billion dollar TCM industry makes up a significant portion not only of the Chinese economy, but also of Chinese healthcare. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), TCM makes up almost half of all delivered healthcare in China. Given the major role it plays in China’s health sector, it is no surprise that TCM is highly involved in the country’s battle against Covid-19.

According to a story by NBC News, the Chinese National Health Commission in March reported that out of more than 80,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 90 percent took TCM as treatment for their symptoms. Chinese Secretary of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Yu Yanhong, stated in a March 23 press conference that TCM has played a vital role in China’s battle against Covid-19, as it has successfully relieved symptoms, decreased the intensity of the virus, and sped up the rate of recovery. In doing so, TCM has reduced China’s mortality rate.

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TCM has also been one of China’s key international aid contributions, as it has sent teams of TCM experts as well as TCM remedies to countries around the world. However, despite the growing appreciation and demand for TCM in different countries of the world, some scientists warn of the possible dangers posed by the ancient remedies.

Professor emeritus of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter in the UK, Dr Edzard Ernst, told NBC News, “TCM mixtures can be toxic, contaminated or adulterated with prescription drugs; they can also interact with prescription drugs.” He also warned that the false sense of security the herb mixtures can give people may lead to their neglect of modern medicines and treatments which are backed by scientific proof. Furthermore, he argued that people may feel a sense of invincibility towards the virus, which may increase their chances of spreading it when they no longer show any more symptoms.

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In accordance with Dr Edzard’s stand on TCM, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences President, Dan Larhammar, who is also a molecular cell biologist, told NBC News, “We need to know which specific product is claimed to work and what is the evidence.”

Though recently published studies in various science journals around the world such as Japan’s BioScience Trends and the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine support the effectiveness of traditional medicine for Covid-19, Mr Larhammar said that the research lacks scientific thoroughness. He cited the minimal sample sizes, vague terminology, the utilisation of non-pharmacological ideas, and the amount of herbs in the TCM mixtures, which makes it difficult to single out the effects of each one, as reasons to remain skeptical.

“They are like parodies. Nobody can take this seriously,” Mr Larhammar told NBC News.

Though there are also scientists who support the use of TCM as treatment for COVID-19, the debate remains standing. China, however, continues to champion TCM, and other countries are beginning to follow suit.

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