Chinese Herbal Medicines (CHMs) are once more in the public spotlight. The potential benefits of CHMs were recently highlighted by Tu Youyou’s receipt of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering artemisinin. Artemisinin is a botanical compound used to treat malaria which Dr. Youyou extracted from the traditional Chinese herb Wormwood. The perils of CHMs were also the focus of media attention this year after a woman died in San Francisco from aconite-poisoning from drinking herbal tea that had not been properly processed.
CHMs are used worldwide by a large and growing segment of the population. In China, where these products are a core component of traditional Chinese medicine, CHMs are used concurrently with western medicine practices. CHMs are also the focus of a major government initiative to export and commercialize Chinese culture and domestic products. In the U.S., CHMs are more often used outside of western medical systems as complementary and alternative medicines. Just in the U.S., nearly 7 billion dollars’ worth of herbal medicines are sold annually. However, only a small fraction of these are CHMs.
A growing scientific evidence base suggests that CHMs are safe and effective for the treatment of certain conditions. However, there have been concerns about the quality of products, particularly those coming out of China. Potential adverse outcomes can result from poor quality control, inappropriate use, and unmonitored drug-herb interactions. Moreover, particularly in the U.S., physicians are unfamiliar with CHMs. As a result, CHMs are largely used outside of mainstream health care systems, which may negatively impact doctor-patient communications and affect the safe and effective use of CHMs. In the U.S., CHMs are minimally regulated as dietary supplements, and they are widely available direct-to-consumers through health food stores, pharmacy outlets, and e-commerce sites.
To improve the safe and effective use of CHMs, the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine is launching its Herbal Medicine Initiative. The first phase of the initiative includes an Herbal Medicine Summit and Chinese Herbal Medicine Publishing Competition. The Center is hosting the Summit in Los Angeles on July 15th, 2017, to consider new strategies to optimize the use of CHMs. It will gather experts and thought-leaders from academia, industry, and clinical practice. The event should generate new strategies to overcome barriers to the use of CHMs, encourage integration of CHMs with Western and Eastern medical training programs, improve consumer practices, and encourage industry collaboration.
For the Publishing Competition, the Center will award $10,000 in prizes for essay and video submissions which address how more people can benefit from the safe and effective use of Chinese herbal medicines. Submissions will be evaluated by an internationally recognized panel of faculty and experts in herbal medicine-related fields, including pharmacology, pharmacy, government, policy and law, and medicine. Key judgment criteria will be novelty, feasibility, and potential impact. Selected submissions will be posted on the Center’s website, and winners will have the ability to work with the Center to help realize their proposals.
The Center is well positioned to launch this Initiative. Over the past 23 years, the Center has been involved in research and consulting for the FDA, National Institutes of Health (NIH), World Health Organization (WHO), national and international governments and universities, health insurance companies, foundations, as well as drug and herbal companies to promote the transformation of global healthcare. In addition, the Center’s education and training programs have transformed the thinking of thousands of health professionals, many of whom have become change-agents and healthcare leaders.
The Center is now taking the next step to aid the transformation of global healthcare.
About the Center for East-West Medicine: The Center for East-West Medicine (CEWM) at University of California, Los Angeles is mission-driven to blend the best of Western and Chinese healing traditions to provide healthcare that is safe, effective, affordable, and accessible. It has developed a person-centered, integrative health model which has been refined over more than two decades to provide solutions to complex and refractory clinical problems.