The San Francisco Chronicle published an article last week on the integration of Chinese medicine (eg, acupuncture, tai chi chuan, meditation and others) into Western healthcare institutions. The American Hospital Association states that 20% of the nation’s hospitals offered complementary medical services in 2004 ? more than double the number in 1998.

The authors take a balanced approach to the subject. Of particular interest was their comment, “Chinese herbal pharmacies, with their unrefined, natural ingredients, do little to inspire confidence in physicians accustomed to prescription drugs.” Actually, this could be the understatement of the millennium.

Chinese herbal medications have a history of containing unlabeled prescription drugs and toxins. Several years ago, I wrote an article listing Chinese herbals that contained undeclared drug substances, and others containing toxic ingredients. My intent was to be balanced, but the lists were an indictment of the entire Chinese herbal industry. A recently published article on the TUFTS|ebcam website updates the problems of misidentification, adulteration/contamination, misuse, and drug-herb interactions.

Integrating Chinese medicine into Western healthcare institutions will bring much needed scrutiny to the former and new options to patients treated in the later. The greatest need is a structured approach to evaluating Chinese herbals.

7/9/06 17:31 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.