‘Critics think it's snake oil medicine’: Call for more TCM research to prove doubters wrong

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Evidence-based research was vital if TCM is to play a bigger role..
Evidence-based research was vital if TCM is to play a bigger role..

Related tags Medicine Alternative medicine Traditional chinese medicine

More clinical trials are needed to build up a catalogue of evidence-based findings to enable Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to play a bigger role in Singapore’s healthcare system.

A recent conference in the City State was told by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong that TCM could play a pivotal role in treating an ageing society, providing it was backed-up by science.

“While TCM in Singapore is complementary to mainstream medicine, TCM's principles and approaches to disease prevention and management have the potential to play an important role in meeting the healthcare challenges of Singapore's ageing society,"​ he said.

However, he argued that evidence-based research was vital if TCM was to play a bigger part.

World Health Organisation Director-General Margaret Chan agreed and said scepticism of TCM would have to be overcome to enable it to play a full role in healthcare regimes.

She pointed to a the relatively few clinical trials that had taken place and called for greater research funding.

“Some critics dismiss the entirety of this ancient art as nothing but pseudoscience or snake oil medicine. We need to find the evidence to prove it wrong, or to prove that traditional medicine is of great value,”​ she said.

We have recently reported on one Australian study​ that assessed how certain TCM plant compounds were found to kill cancer cells.

Investment crucial

Dr Chan went on to praise countries such as Singapore for investing in TCM research.

“It’s wonderful that the Singapore government has put in S$3m to encourage research,”​ she said, but added it was dwarfed by the amount put into many other areas of academic study.

The research grant aims to encourage clinical research and collaboration between TCM practitioners and mainstream medicine researchers on chronic disease. 

While four of the six grants released so far relate to acupuncture, another seeks to discover how effective TCM is on patients with irritable bowel syndrome.

Dr Chan also suggested that Singapore’s regulation of the practice was beneficial.

“The Government has a legal framework to regulate TCM because it is used in a much bigger proportion,”​ she said. “Whether the practitioners are properly trained as well as registered and the medical products, particularly the ready-to-use forms, they also look at in terms of safety before they are licensed to be sold on the market.”

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