Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Dark Side of Traditional Chinese Medicine Is Destroying Our Planet's Treasures

Some elements for M├ędecine chinoise in Xi'anImage via WikipediaBy J. Max Cromwell

What do tortured bears, decimated tiger populations and widespread slaughter of sharks, turtles, rhinos, and seahorses have in common? The answer is TCM - Traditional Chinese Medicine.

According to some of the deeply ingrained beliefs in TCM, consuming the body parts of some of the world's most exotic animals makes you healthier, stronger and even enhances your sexual vigor. Eating tiger penis makes you perform well in the bedroom, elephant skin cures acne, turtle meat makes you live longer, lizards lower your blood pressure, bear paw soup makes you stronger, etc. These and other TCM beliefs have led to the senseless slaughter and torture of some of the most remarkable wild animals we have on this planet.

Sharks are left dying in the bottom of the ocean with their fins cut off, wild tigers are poached to extinction, and live black bears are "milked" with a huge needle in tiny cages for their bile to provide a cure for liver disease. Thousands of rhinos have been killed for their horns, an estimated 20 million seahorses are consumed every year, and the peculiar-looking saiga antelope population has crashed from more than a million to fewer than 50,000 in just a couple of decades. And this is just the tip of the dark TCM iceberg. Many other species are suffering and dying in unprecedented numbers because of the unproven health benefits their deaths offer for TCM. The list of the victims of the growing TCM trade is long and heartbreaking.

To stop the senseless killing, we have to accept that the part of TCM that uses endangered and rare animals for medical purposes doesn't belong in the modern world - a world with an ever-growing human population and a decreasing number of wild animals and species in our forests and oceans. TCM's well-meaning methods using exotic animals were maybe useful and acceptable in the traditional world where the human population was much smaller and scientific medicine had fewer options to offer. But in the world of Viagra, Aspirin, and pharmacies stacked with medicines for everything from common flu to severe depression, there really isn't any need to kill tigers and torture bears for medical purposes that have few or no proven health effects.

It is time to wake up and bury the misguided beliefs that blind people from seeing the truth and accepting the devastating effects they have on our planet's wildlife. If we choose not to, this traditional medicine that was designed to help people will wipe out some of the most incredible creatures we have on this planet and leave us all guessing the detrimental consequences of our actions on the fragile ecosystems and the delicate balance of nature.

TCM is now more widespread than ever and its methods are gaining popularity all over the world. This being the case, we have to make sure that the unsustainable parts of the medicine don't spread along with the sustainable and useful ones. Surely the dark side of TCM is not the only culprit when it comes to destroying our planet's wild animal populations, but it is definitely one of them and something that we can fight against with the right kind of education and by changing our habits and correcting false and outdated beliefs.

There are without doubt many good things about TCM (acupuncture, traditional massage, use of herbs, etc.), and its traditions are old and intriguing, but the part of it that leads to destruction and senseless killing of defenseless wild animals must go. These practices simply don't belong to the 21st Century. We must be smarter than that. We just can't afford for these unproven medical beliefs to kill the beauty and diversity of our planet. We can't allow TCM to turn into poison and let it destroy future generations' chances to live in a world where wild tigers still roam in the forests and seahorses and turtles swim in the glimmering oceans.

We have to wake up and face the facts before we reach the sad day when our children can only see some of the most amazing wildlife in pictures and on the jerseys of their favorite sports teams. The time to act is now. It is time to start spreading the word and encourage constructive and open debate about the benefits and flaws of TCM. Let's give the good parts of TCM the attention they deserve and condemn the bad ones. That will be beneficial for us all and help keep our world beautifully diverse also in the future. It will also keep TCM from turning into a cussword on the lips of the future generations.

Hi! I'm J. Max Cromwell, the author of 22 Inches of Rain. It's a book about life and its little mysteries.

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