In contrast to Acupuncture, far less scientific research has been conducted into the effectiveness of Chinese Herbal Medicine, which comprise much of TCM.
Many of the doubts about the effectiveness of various Chinese Herbal Medicine treatments are due to the fact that their benefits appear to be assigned on the basis of inductive reasoning. For example:
- Herbs and plants with heart-shaped leaves will help the heart,
- The ground bones of the tiger act as a stimulant because tigers are powerful and energetic animals.
However, even where such inductive reasoning has been used, it does not necessarily follow that some substances do not possess or impart their attributed medicinal properties when used. That is, the substance may do what TCM claims by coincidence or by a process a process of elimination over countless trials and long periods of time.
For example, it is possible that a range of herbs may have originally been selected on erroneous grounds (for example, because of their heart shaped leaves), but only those that were found to be effective have remained in use.
Pharmacologically Active Ingredients
A wide range of useful pharmacological compounds have already been isolated from various Chinese Herbal Medicines, and these are now used in Western Medicine. For example, Chinese Wormwood (Qinghao) was the source for the discovery of Artemisinin, which is now used in anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial medications in the West. It is also under investigation, along with various other Chinese Herbal Medicines, as a potential anti-cancer agent.
Many Chinese Herbal Medicines are categorized as dietary supplements in the West, simply because attempting to categorize them as medicines would force the herbs to undergo formal testing. As such, there is considerable controversy over their effectiveness, safety, and regulatory status.
For example, Ephedra (Ma Huang, commonly called Help Yellow) contains ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine which are used in restricted drugs in many western countries, because of the health risks they present. For example, they can adversely impact the cardiovascular system, and even lead to death if the person over-consumes extracts in high doses.