Traditional Chinese medicine is still a divisive issue in B.C.

East and West haven’t truly met with regard to traditional Chinese medicine.

A recent announcement that Kwantlen Polytechnic University will host B.C.’s first public school of TCM has drawn criticism from the association representing physicians in the province.

But according to Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk, the measure is about giving everyone a choice.

“We want to give British Columbians the choice of how they manage their health care in terms of the kinds of programs that they feel are appropriate,” Virk told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “If one association has a slightly different view, I’m not going to be alarmed by that.”

The establishment of a TCM school in a public postsecondary institution was promised by Premier Christy Clark in last year’s throne speech. That promise was reiterated in the B.C. Liberal platform during the May 2013 election campaign.

“It’s about promises made and it’s about promises kept,” said Virk, MLA for Surrey-Tynehead.

For the association previously known as the B.C. Medical Association and recently renamed Doctors of B.C., things aren’t quite as simple as that.

According to Dr. Lloyd Oppel, chair of the organization’s council on health promotion, the government didn’t consider the “perspective of the scientific medical community” regarding TCM. He asserted that most studies have “failed to find evidence of effec­tiveness” for this ancient system of diagnosing and curing illnesses.

“If the courses being offered are not based on good evidence or if there’s good evidence that treatments being offered are ineffec­tive or harmful, then, you know, offering things that aren’t real or safe in a university context may give people the wrong impression that they’re getting genuine health treatment,” Oppel told the Straight in a phone interview. “And so, if—and I’m saying if—if universities offer courses like that, then there’s a risk the public may be harmed.”

He cited as an example the fact that although many Chinese herbal remedies have been around for hundreds of years, some in recent times have been tested and found to be poisonous, such as those made from plants of the genus Aristolochia. In 2001, Health Canada ordered the removal from the market of products containing the herb, an ingredient used in weight-loss and other preparations.

Oppel also referred to acupuncture, a form of TCM cure, as “random pokes in the skin”.

In addition to herbal remedies and acupuncture, TCM treatments also include energy exercises and massages.

Acupuncturist Poppi Sabhaney countered that TCM is “as valid as western medicine”.

“They both have their place,” Sabhaney told the Straight in a phone interview. “If you have a compounded fracture sticking out of your leg, I don’t want to see you. But I will help you after you recover because I have things that will help you recover quicker, where western medicine says: ‘Sit and rest and wait.’ ”

Sabhaney is a member of the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture, the organization that resulted from the merger last year of the Qualified Acupuncturists and TCM Association, and the Traditional Chinese Medicine Association of British Columbia. He was the president of the TCMABC.

Sabhaney also disputed claims that there’s no proof of the effectiveness of TCM.

“Just because it’s not in English doesn’t mean it’s not around,” he said. “There are hundreds, if not thousands, of studies in Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese. Even, I know in Hindi, I’ve seen acupuncture studies showing, you know, that it does work.”

According to Sabhaney, western-medicine doctors oppose TCM because they’re afraid of losing “power”.

“At one time, a doctor was god. You didn’t argue with them. You didn’t say anything. You said, ‘Whatever you say.’ You just take it as gospel,” Sabhaney said.

TCM is provincially regulated. It’s recognized by the government as meeting risk standards and providing health benefits to the public. At the national level, Health Canada regulates TCM products, which numbered more than 2,000 as of April 2013.

At present, TCM programs in B.C. are offered in private schools.

More steps will follow Advanced Education Minister Virk’s announcement on January 24 about Kwantlen serving as the home of a public school. A program advisory committee will be set up to guide the development of the new school. Burnaby North MLA Richard Lee, who was appointed in December 2013 as parliamentary secretary for traditional Chinese medicine, will sit on the committee.

Virk, indicating that the school may open sometime in 2015, said: “British Columbians support traditional health care. They support complementary health care, and we’ve heard that loud and clear.”

Comments (33) Add New Comment
Placebo effect in action, unless you get an infection from all those needles.
Rating: -6
Disappointed in Chilliwack
I suffer from severe rheumatism as a result of demonic possession, but the standard of training for exorcists in BC is terrible. I hope the Ministry of Advanced Education is looking into it.
Rating: +10
This foreign mess is all stuff. Anti-phlogistenic unguent, blue pill, and Ward's drop suffice to avoid megrims, marthambles and the falling damps. If one is let an ounce or two of blood, followed by low diet and a comfortable slime-draught, that should rectify the humours amazingly!
Rating: +1
a doc who is not one of the old boys
I have experienced Dr Lloyd Oppel as one of "the old boys" who constantly fights what he has referred to as snake oil medicine. He devalues what he is unfamiliar with. He is ill informed, and appears closed to growth and change in the emerging holistic medicine of 2014. As such, he appears to be stuck in his rigid belief system, and his identity tied tightly to fear of change.
We need people like Dr Oppel, as paradoxically, he stokes the fires of controversy and provides a glaring example of fear of change.
In contrast, more and more open minded docs are now willing to go beyond traditional western medicine, and welcome and integrate forms of complementary and alternative medicine. They often do so quietly, so as not become subject to discipline from the old boys clubs. And to my delight, Increasing numbers of docs no longer fear embracing change, and are leading the charge into holism.
As the old guard leaves by attrition, the old boys club will begin to lose it's power, but change takes time!
Rating: -4
A person who's integrated it
In the article, once again, the comment is that Doctors are afraid of losing "power". What's with all the alternative gurus thinking we are all into power? We just want to see proof. I've seen a lot of the studies mentioned that, you know, shows acupuncture works. The studies are not well constructed and don't have good controls so that, while it looks like it works, the studies are not reproducible. There is no standardization because Acupuncture has as many approaches and theories are there are practitioners. It's hard to make a good study, but the practitioners are not looking for ways of developing good studies with good "control". Western Medicine Works, there is no question, Acupuncture works in grey areas where the proof is not easy to find. My biggest concern is that the practitioners themselves would rather say that Western doctors are afraid of losing power and personally attacking the western doc, than showing us the studies that prove acupuncture works. Or developing parameters that can produce reproducible studies
Rating: +5
Old boys club is right...I wonder how many of the above commenters have tried TCM?

"...or if there’s good evidence that treatments being offered are ineffec­tive or harmful, then, you know, offering things that aren’t real or safe in a university context may give people the wrong impression that they’re getting genuine health treatment.”

I would also like to ask Dr Oppel about all those synthetic drugs with commercials on tv with their ridiculous never ending lists of harmful side effects. Are they considered to be "genuine treatments"?!

Give me TCM to help cure me over western medicine and their cooperate pharmaceutical based attempts to eliviate my symptoms ANY day
Rating: -9
@A person who's integrated it -

I agree with you, but I think the biggest problem of all, is that there lacks real funding for substantial proof, and evidence from studies. There is so much money pumped into "Western Health" because of the number of pharmaceutical companies.

Why would they want to invest in studies that could promote cures, and alleviate syptoms, from common herbs you and I could grow easily in our backyard? I believe there is much more at play here than what is simply on the surface.
Rating: -11
All alternative and complementary medicine should be subject to the same rigorous double blind placebo controlled tests as any other accepted regimen.

The action of the BC government is nothing more than pandering to special interest groups for votes.
Rating: +17
The Medical Association is disgusting. Aside from centuries of practise in China, Chinese medicine been flourishing here for Decades now, and a godsend for many many people, myself included. The school here is one of the most respected anywhere. And the Association was appallingly out of integrity in engineering the take-down of the revolutionary and inspiring Tzu Chi Institute that integrated western & chinese medicine along with psychology and structural disciplines such as physiothery - which was connected hello to VGH.. This is all about power and money - nothing whatsoever to do with true healing. Pathetic in this day and age already.
Rating: -9

"...the biggest problem of all, is that there lacks real funding for substantial proof..."

In fact, the US government has been funding studies into the efficacy of alt-med since 1991, through the "National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)". Their budget is around $120m per year.

What have they found, after 20 years and $2 billion? Basically, nothing word talking about. Alt med is at best one big placebo.
Rating: +2
The Baby Jesus
It is important to keep an open mind when coming into contact with different ideas and practices. It is, however, even more important that, prior to any acceptance, we have some sort of evidence of effectiveness.

Science is the single best attempt we, as a species, have ever made to rid ourselves of the confounding factors of bias, greed and corruption of investigative efforts in general. If these (TCM) traditional cures are shown to be valid using the scientific method then we can skip calling them anything but simply medicine.

If you disagree then feel free to return to the fifteen hundreds - and be sure to start work on your protective layer of dirt and grime as soon as you arrive.

Rating: +3
Matthew Bauer

The reason acupuncture studies often show mixed results is that acupuncture works by helping the body to better manage itself and medical research is not designed to study that. All you need to do is see how acupuncture is now being accepted in Veterinary medicine to understand it works and one’s “belief” in it has little to do with it. When you consider how many people are harmed by the side-effects of “scientifically validated” drugs, it make one wonder why the Medical Doctors groups are not more concerned with that if they have public safety in mind. Oh – maybe it is because they are the ones prescribing all those drugs.
Rating: -9
Peter Nigos
TCM practitioners recommend that young women who have the blues after delivery are improved by eating their own placenta. British Columbia, welcome to the Stone Age.
Rating: -12
Most common medications prescribed by family doctors contain animal products, but it’s hard to tell if they’re suitable for vegetarians and other patients with dietary preferences, a new study finds.

Many patients and doctors are unaware that commonly prescribed drugs contain animal products, which isn't clear by reading the list of ingredients, researchers say in this week’s issue of the British Medical Journal.

Rating: -14
@Bruce- Thanks for the share.
I would be interested in knowing how much is spent a year on studies for western medicine in comparison though. The closest answer I could find was this:

"Along these lines, Bruce G. Charlton, MD, views the medical research system as morally bankrupt. Charlton told me via e-mail that modern medical science is "basically corrupt, untruthful and indeed is not real..." Since you are talking about the US, I would also recommend reading this article:

Further, interesting enough, I found this information as well from
WHO (World Health Organization:

"The effectiveness of acupuncture analgesia has already been established in controlled clinical studies. As mentioned previously, acupuncture analgesia works better than a placebo for most kinds of pain, and its effective rate in the treatment of chronic pain is comparable with that of morphine. In addition, numerous laboratory studies have provided further evidence of the efficacy of acupuncture’s analgesic action as well as an explanation of the mechanism involved. In fact, the excellent analgesic effects of acupuncture have stimulated research on pain.

Because of the side-effects of long-term drug therapy for pain and the risks of dependence, acupuncture analgesia can be regarded as the method of choice for treating many chronically painful conditions.

Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which acupuncture has been proved-through controlled trials-to be an effective treatment:

Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy
Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)
Biliary colic
Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
Dysentery, acute bacillary
Dysmenorrhoea, primary
Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)
Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
Hypertension, essential
Hypotension, primary
Induction of labour
Knee pain
Low back pain
Malposition of fetus, correction of
Morning sickness
Nausea and vomiting
Neck pain
Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)
Periarthritis of shoulder
Postoperative pain
Renal colic
Rheumatoid arthritis
Tennis elbow
Rating: +1
Just because the "public wants it" does not make it right. Not so long ago, it wanted the liberation therapy for MS too, look where it went. Thus public by and large know enough about science to "scientifically extrapolate that this winter is so cold that there is no such thing as a global warming".
patients used to tell the docs "whatever you say" doc, now docs are having to tell many patients "whatever, but at your own risks". Charlatans (electrolysed water, chocolate and rose enemas etc) are profiting from an incredulous populace, and disingenuous politicians who are just looking for future electorate or just wanting to be politically correct and pleasing to the "anything goes". The problem is that the tax coffers are empty so when we fund fluff and semigarbage, the essential stuff gets cut. If you want your acupuncture why don't you go on a river cruise you know where. In the mean time people are dying or getting injured on waiting lists. We can fund all this and witchcraft etc, if the public wants treatment with third world scientific evidence, you know those that never made it to ethical scientific journals, they should pay for it. Our universities should not support this. But I suspect this is simply another fringe making lots of noise, self interest of some sort. Patients, we told you so, forwarned is forearmed !
Rating: -2
Jo.M. for wildlife's sake
Doesn't TCM also include dried up tiger private parts, shredded rhino horns, extracted caged and confined poor little bear bile, shark fins and a host of medieval and repugnant remedies that are contributing to mass extinctions and bear poaching even here in BC. Put it this way, acupuncture might help some ailments, but a billion TCM users can't be good for the almost extinct tigers and rhinos and at the very least it's crual to the bears and the sharks that are dumped back into the oceans, finless. Does Kwantlem want our grand children to say that it had a part in mass extinction of some of the greatest mammals on the face of the earth ? I don't want my grandchildren to say that we did not do anything to eradicate superstitious beliefs. When ignorance is bliss, it is foolish to be wise. I wish I was ignorant.
Rating: -3
"The reason acupuncture studies often show mixed results is that acupuncture works by helping the body to better manage itself and medical research is not designed to study that". Matthew Bauer.

Let's be intellectually thorough here:
-1- You are saying that because "it works by helping the body better manage itself" it therefore shows mixed results. Thank you, that is the point, but not yours, mine, it does not really work, it does nothing. Were you smoking something when you had this eureka moment ?
The body can manage itself, without TCM or spices enemas. When it cannot, a few needles there and there just cause pain that distracts for the original pain you went in for. Same as your marijuana addiction distracts you from reality.

-2- "medical research is not designed to study that": wow, I have seen how low the scientific enquiry mind had gone in the West lately but that is the Abysses (capital A). It is. Good thing you are not a policy maker !
Rating: 0
Plenty of Good Research
Plenty of good research exists for TCM in english, published in high level western medical journals.

Try Fertility and Sterility for example.

and more ...

This is not a question of whether acupuncture "works" or not, but on what conditions, using what protocols under what circumstances. Acupuncture is a complex intervention that includes many variables.

Plenty of research on surgery clearly shows it is "ineffective" and especially dangerous for certain conditions. However, that doesnt mean we throw it out the window. Especially when surgery, like acupuncture, can be effective when done correctly for the right conditions.

Dr. Lloyd Oppel is only pushing his own agenda without actually looking at the evidence that he claims to cherish. I am glad he is not my doctor. Luckily, in BC, we have a choice. Lets keep it that way.

Rating: +2
It is difficult to read some of these comments as many of them seem uninformed. Acupuncture is a very effective way to treat many different conditions. As someone else pointed out in the above comments, the world health organization has done an extensive review of research. If you go to their web page you can find a very detailed report on their findings. They have a list of conditions that acupuncture has been shown to help. They also have a list of conditions that acupuncture may help but more research is needed to confirm the items on the second list.
I think people should become more informed about acupuncture before commenting on it.
There are groups that are working towards better acupuncture research. Here is an example:
Rating: -7


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