Traditional Chinese medicine taking root in Europe
Updated: 2011-05-02 00:31
UTRECHT, Netherlands - Louise Van Der Kley is now a regular user of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), although many of her Dutch friends used to say "it's only psychological if it helps."
"My whole family has benefited from TCM and we have strong faith in it," said the 63-year-old retired teacher.
She has been taking two kinds of Chinese herbal tablets to ease pains with her nerves and lose some weight, prescribed by a Chinese doctor in Utrecht, Netherlands.
"Western painkillers are not good for long-term health and could have severe consequences, but TCM comes with no side-effects," she said.
About 15 years ago, Van Der Kley turned to a TCM doctor for the first time when she had rheumatism causing joint pains all over her body.
Her first Chinese doctor was a colleague of her sister's at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who recommended him when Van Der Kley's father had difficulty in moving his shoulders.
"He cured my father and I decided to give it a try," she said.
The doctor then gave her some herbs and also put tiny needles on her elbows and knees, as she recalled.
"The smell and taste of the herbs I cooked at home was really terrible, but the pains were quickly relieved," she said.
When her son got an exceptional tumor inside his left leg a few years later, the same doctor gave him acupuncture treatment for eight times, after which his pain was much less and the tumor much smaller.
"Now my son has been in stable condition for nine years and I do have confidence in TCM doctors," she said.
Van Der Kley is among a gradually increasing group of local patients turning to TCM in recent years since it started entering the European market in mid 1990s, many of whom also have sort of personal bonds with China.
Frederik Cornelis, for example, a 62-year-old architect, was pushed by his Chinese wife to a TCM clinic when western medicine could not fix his stomach pain that also started spreading to his whole body.
"I could not eat or I would throw up. I could not sleep. I felt pain every minute. Yet I could not take prednisone either, or it would hurt other parts of my body and bring me sugar disease," he recalled.
He had barely heard of TCM and never trusted it before, but his lingering stomach pain only occurred about 2 times a week after he started to drink Chinese herbal medicine and try Chinese acupuncture.
Now he takes two cups of herbal medicine per day and goes to the doctor twice a week.
"I believe I have been given the right remedy by the Chinese doctor. I am getting back to rebuild my body," he said.
With a history of more than 2,000 years, TCM seems to be taking root in the hearts of Europeans as its efficacy has been spread from mouth to mouth.
Data shows that about 50 percent of European people have tried TCM so far. Many environmental-friendly local people also find it easy to understand and accept as Europe itself has a tradition of using acupuncture and herbs for hundreds of years.
"It is more natural and healthier with less or no side-effects," Cornelis said.
Doctor Lin Bin, director of a well-known TCM clinic in Netherlands, said about 95 percent of his patients were local people, who most frequently came with chronic disease, gastrointestinal disease and neurasthenia.
Surprisingly, TCM is often deemed outside China as especially helpful for rare diseases when western medicine does not work.
In the Netherlands where an average 15 percent of women are infertile, Prof. Lin kind of rose to fame after helping a few Dutch women who had difficulties in conceiving babies to give birth with TCM treatment.
"You may need a scan or an e-ray when you are worried about a cancer or a tumor, but TCM is definitely worth a try when you are hopeless," as Van Der Kley said.
Lin's clinic offers 450 kinds of herb drinks, 150 kinds of herbal medicinal products and 80 kinds of granules, currently registered as food supplements in the European market.
"Europeans usually prefer herbal medicinal products and granules to herbal drinks, whose tastes are bitter," Lin said.
However, Chinese herbal medicinal products will be banned from the EU market unless they have obtained a medicine license, as a 2004 EU herbal medicine directive has been fully implemented starting from this Sunday.
The directive introduced a so-called simplified registration procedure with a seven-year transition period that expired on Saturday for traditional herbal medicinal products to be licensed, including Chinese traditional medicine.
But so far, not a single Chinese herbal medicinal product has been granted the license, due to prohibitive costs or difficulty to offer evidence of 15-year safe use in the EU market.
Traditional herbs and herbal non-medicinal products can continue to be sold as food supplements. But TCM is usually excluded from the medical insurance system in most EU countries.
TCM users said they were worried that they would be left with no necessary Chinese traditional medicine under the new EU rules.
Cornelis said he would ask his wife to buy his medicine from China while Van Der Kley joked about growing fat without Chinese herbal pills to control her weight.
"But many other Europeans will need Chinese herbal pills to deal with their diseases," she added.
Two groups representing the interest of European herbal sector even filed a law suit together to the European Court of Justice, the EU's highest judicial body, against the European Commission, demanding a revised legal framework for traditional herbal systems.
Most patients at TCM clinics across Europe interviewed by Xinhua said they wanted TCM to stay in Europe and would recommend TCM to their families and friends.
"It's all right to regulate the herbal market, but European people also need good-quality TCM," Van Der Kley said.
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