US Medical Institutions Embrace Traditional Chinese Medicine

More Americans are turning to traditional Chinese medicine on the advice of doctors at prestigious medical institutions. Harvard, Columbia, and Stanford Medical Centers are among a growing number of medical institutions that offer traditional Chinese approaches such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, and meditation.

Hundreds of clinical studies show significant results with these treatments, including a 2002 review from Harvard Medical School that concluded that acupuncture can safely ease chronic pain as well as nausea caused by chemotherapy and pregnancy. A 2004 Tufts-New England Medical Center review of 47 studies on tai chi found the Chinese discipline of meditative movements promoted cardiovascular fitness in people with chronic conditions.

A 2004 study from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) noted that new research into the neurological aspects of disease 'show striking similarities with concepts used by traditional Chinese medicine.' The researchers referenced Western medicine's expanding knowledge of the role of stress as well as physical and emotional trauma in triggering 'complex interactions between mind, body and brain' -- a phenomenon long acknowledged in Chinese medicine.

One-fifth of the nation's hospitals offered complementary medical services in 2004, more than double the number in 1998, according to the American Hospital Association. Influencing this trend is the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine, which was founded in 1999 to facilitate the integration of alternative medicine into American institutions and now includes 32 member medical centers, such as Harvard and Columbia universities.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also recently revised its research protocols to support clinical trials of Chinese and other herbal treatments. In experiments using botanicals, the FDA is also allowing anecdotal evidence of the safety of an herbal remedy in lieu of safety tests on animals. This safety evaluation phase for Chinese herbs will be significantly cheaper than safety testing for conventional new drugs. Clinical trials for standard drugs cost an estimated $800 million, according to the Journal of Health Economics. The FDA guidelines will foster a new wave of research and 'give a stamp of credibility' to traditional Chinese medicine.