Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New rules for Chinese meds

Wed, January 3, 2007

Regulation not endorsement, province says


Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine are welcoming government regulation of their 5,000-year-old art.

It's a move the Liberal government says will ensure the treatments do no harm.

But a skeptic argues legislators are giving the mistaken impression the treatments have been proven to help.

Joanne Pritchard-Sobhani, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), argues Ontario's move to create a self-regulating college for her profession brings the therapy into the mainstream and protects patients.

"To increase standards of education and practice is the most important thing," said Pritchard-Sobhani, who has a dozen years of education in China, Sri Lanka and North America.

"Anyone in Ontario could practise acupuncture or Chinese medicine without being qualified. They could hang out a shingle.

"People can be assured now that practitioners can diagnose and have effective and safe treatments."

She touts TCM for treating everything from multiple sclerosis to cancer and argues regulating it amounts to an endorsement by Minister of Health George Smitherman.

"He's endorsing traditional Chinese medicine as a legitimate health-care profession alongside physiotherapists, chiropractors and doctors," she said.

Traditional Chinese medicine is based on the belief that illnesses are caused by imbalances in qi -- the life force in all living things. TCM practitioners use acupuncture, diet, exercise, massage and herbs -- along with cupping, applying hot inverted cups to the skin, and moxibustion, or burning herbs above points on the body.

Minister of Health George Smitherman argued that regulating TCM will ensure Ontarians who choose it get "safe, quality" care.

The government didn't try to judge whether it works -- only that a therapy more and more Ontarians are using is safe, spokesman David Spencer said.

"It was not for us to make a judgement on its level of effectiveness -- only to say these practices are in use," he said. "Our role as government is to ensure when people are using these practices no harm is done in the process."

But the group Canadians for Rational Health Policy argues that TCM is an unproven method that can leave patients poorer and sicker.

The studies proponents cite to prove therapies such as acupuncture work are usually poorly designed, argues psychologist Dr. Barry Beyerstein, who studies why people believe in what he calls bogus therapies.

He argues they can be useless but far from harmless, citing herbs that can cause liver damage and infections and perforated organs in botched acupuncture.

Beyerstein sent his diabetic brother to a dozen random TCM practitioners.

Despite his MedicAlert bracelet and classic symptoms, none diagnosed diabetes and some prescribed sugary remedies.

Beyerstein has mixed feelings about Ontario's move.

"On the one hand, it gives government imprimatur to some bad science," he said. "On the other hand, it puts some of the worst practitioners out of business."