Top doctors in Europe are calling on the World Health Organization to clarify its position on traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and cupping, after the global authority listed the pseudoscientific practice in one of its publications earlier this year.
WHO said it didn’t intend to endorse TCM, which includes a wide array of unregulated herbal medicines and New Age health supplements known to sometimes cause illnesses and death, but that doesn’t mean some believers won’t act as though the recognition is an approval.
The Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) and the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council will issue a joint statement on Thursday urging the WHO to clarify how traditional Chinese medicine and other complementary therapies should be used.
Earlier this year, the WHO decided to add a chapter on traditional Chinese medicine to the International Classification of Diseases, which lists treatments available globally for medical conditions. The ICD is influential with governments, which look at its recommendations when deciding how to spend health budgets.
The WHO says this is not an endorsement, but European scientists fear it will be used by manufacturers to promote their herbal and other remedies — and that the public will be misled into thinking there is good evidence that they work and are safe. There is a risk, they say, that some people with a serious medical condition may even avoid or delay going to a conventional doctor.
The doctors are right. Regardless of the WHO’s intention, there is no doubt that someone will take advantage of it — whether it’s the pharmaceutical industry or snake oil salesmen themselves. No good comes from formal recognition of the practice.
“Multiple risks of harm from herbal ingredients have been documented,” [the doctors] will warn. Sometimes herbal remedies have been adulterated with chemicals. Interaction with conventional drugs can be a serious threat. And acupuncture, they will say, “is not necessarily harmless”. A review in 2017 found many injuries, infections and adverse reactions.
It shouldn’t be hard for credible scientists to say pseudoscience isn’t legitimate medicine. If they can’t take a firm position on the obvious, how can we expect anyone to trust them when the situation isn’t as clear?
(Image via Shutterstock)