Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Do TCM doctors have a shorter life span than doctors of western medicine?

It's a common theme on the Internet of the Chinese language: "台湾中医比西医短命六七岁" (Taiwanese Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors have a shorter life span than doctors of western medicine by six to seven years). Like almost all popular articles written in Chinese, the source of claim is not verified. In this case, it's simply stated as "台湾《联合报》报道" (according to the report of Taiwanese United Daily News), or "根据台湾医学会最新调查" (according to the latest investigation of the Taiwanese Medical Society"), without giving a link.

After some Googling, I managed to locate the earliest webpage that carried this information. At blog.udn.com/giveman/4346332 posted at 2010/08/23 15:08, the blogger attributed this claim to the Taiwanese 衛生署 (Ministry of Health) and 婦產科醫學會 (Taiwanese Gynecological Society) by quoting a reporter by the name of 陳惠惠. Unfortunately, there's no further link. One week later, on 2010/8/30, Professor 黃文璋 (Wen-Jang Huang) of National University of Kaohsiung wrote that "雖未能找到台灣婦產科醫學會的調查報告,但在網路上查到..." (Although the investigative report by the Taiwanese Gynecological Society was not found, I searched and found on the Internet that ..."

Literature search aside, the fact that a statement claiming that TCM doctors live shorter than non-TCM counterparts can quickly become popular and continue floating on the Internet for many years is an interesting one. Indeed, TCM is said to be strong at 养生 (maintaining health) and not so at medical treatment, as most people believe. Then, why would TCM practitioners themselves die younger? If that turns out to be true based on quality statistics, there may be one factor at play: TCM doctors are not fully appreciative of the toxicity of some ingredients (they know but choose to make light of them), or have not kept abreast of some latest studies (as in the case of 马兜铃酸 or aristolochic acid found to exist in much more herbs than previously thought).