Saturday, March 29, 2008

Doping in Traditional Chinese Medicine

One of the biggest advantages of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), its supporters argue, is that the medications are made from natural materials such as herbs or animal parts and are therefore safe, without the side-effects of most modern medications.

But the effectiveness of TCM has never been scientifically established. So much so that even the manufacturers of TCM are not confident in their usefulness. Therefore, it has become a common practice to add components of modern medicine into traditional prescriptions and still sell them as TCM medicines. These components, and their side-effects, are rarely disclosed and the drugs are continued to be sold over the counter, even for the consumption of infants.

There had been media reports in the past that TCM medicines exported from China were found of containing components that do not belong in TCM.

As the Beijing Olympics approaches, authorities in China began to worry about potential doping scandals. In mid-March, the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) circulated a list of TCM medicines that are known to contain stimulates or dopes. It advised the manufacturers of these drugs that they should have included an "Athletes Caution" label so that athletes would not be using these and be found guilty of doping.

The list was quite an eye-opener. It was first reported in New Threads on March 22, by Zhang Jiawei, who pointed out that over 500 TCM medicines have been found to contain prasterone or DHEA, a steroid hormone.

In all, 1,227 TCM medicines were identified to have stimulates of some kind. Fang Zhouzi pointed out that, while some of them existed naturally in herbs, others, such as prasterone (普拉雄酮), hydrochlorothiazide(氢氯噻嗪), clenbuterol (克仑特罗), could not have come from natural components but have to be intentionally added during the manufacturing process.

While these TCM, or fake TCM if you will, use doped modern medicine components to enhance their effectiveness, they are actually sold with a higher price than the corresponding non-TCM pills, which are of higher quality and better understood side-effects. Consumers who had bought these TCM medicines over the counter are unlikely to be aware of these additives and their purported effects and side-effects.

Much worse, among the 533 TCM that contains prasterone, many of them are intended for the use of babies and infants. It's a mystery why prasterone has to be added for baby medicines, but their existence will certainly harm the natural growth process of these little patients.

It seems so far that the SFDA is too pre-occupied with making sure the nation's athletes are aware of the danger of doing in these TCM medicines to taking any necessary actions in safe-guarding the health of the general public.

2 comments:

Ben said...

"Fang Zhouzi pointed out that, while some of them existed naturally in herbs, others, such as prasterone (普拉雄酮), hydrochlorothiazide(氢氯噻嗪), clenbuterol (克仑特罗), could not have come from natural components but have to be intentionally added during the manufacturing process.
"

prasterone (普拉雄酮) is from 人工麝香. It is almost confirmed.

Eddie Cheng said...

Thanks Ben.

In a follow-up article Fang Zhouzi had answered this question (in Chinese) here. 人工麝香 is artificially manufactured. Its ingredients and process has been kept secret. If it does contain prasterone, it is most likely an added substance.