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25 September  2006 

Chinese Medicine

Western science puts traditional Chinese medicine under scientific scrutiny to test whether it really works

Science and Technology:Research
Contact: Professor Alan Bensoussan, Director
Centre for Complementary Medicine Research, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith South DC 1797 NSW
International Telephone: +61 2 9772 6622

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BLANCH : Now Western science puts traditional Chinese medicine under scientific scrutiny to test whether it really works.

Here's Bernadette Nunn to guide us.

JIAN JIANG : Can you feel that Lauren?

LAUREN SEE : I can feel it now. Okay, that's good.

BERNADETTE NUNN : Traditional Chinese medicine has been used for thousands of years and is increasingly being adopted in the West, particularly as a treatment for women's health, like period pain.

LAUREN SEE : Some days it was tremendously bad that I'd have to have the day off - the full day or occasionally two days a week off work or off uni.

BERNADETTE NUNN : Severe stomach cramps and back ache are the painful reality of being a woman for the millions who suffer period pain or dysmenorrhoea.

MS PATCHING : It can occur in anywhere between 20 to 90 percent of women but roughly 50 per cent of women suffer period pain at some time in their lives.

JIAN JIANG : Western medicine they don't have any like effective method to treat this problem. The only thing they can offer is pain killer but a lot of women they don't like it.

LAUREN SEE : The doctor recommended naprogesics, like a pain reliever, for my headaches. It didn't really help at all, I'd still have the pain and still have headaches and still have irritability.

MS PATCHING : Well, menopause as you know is on the other end of the spectrum. Generally menopause occurs at around about the age of fifty years of age in Western societies and menopause can cause some people some problems especially the hot flushing and night sweats of menopause and that occurs in roughly anywhere between 60 and 80 per cent of women and some women for example 10 to 20 per cent of women really find the hot flushing and night sweats very inconvenient and find it a real problem.

MS PATCHING : It can last for up to a year but in some women it can last for up to 10 years so these women can suffer from hot flushing and night sweats for up to 10 years. And that of course is a burden on these women.

BERNADETTE NUNN : Hormone Replacement Therapy is Western medicine's answer to menopausal problems.

MS PATCHING : There are safety concerns with hormone replacement therapy. Women have a higher incidence of cancer. Cancer such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, also higher incidents of blood clots.

BERNADETTE NUNN : A University of Western Sydney team is now putting Chinese medicine to the test with two clinical trials to measure whether herbal treatments and acupuncture really work.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR ALAN BENSOUSSAN : In terms of regulation, the Western market does require some strong evidence in order to be able to sell and market and advertise a lot of these medicines. But also patients themselves need to be sure and convinced that they're not wasting three months or six months of treatment time. But if they're going to seek treatment with an alternative form of medicine such as Chinese medicine, they've got a reasonable chance of recovery.

MS PATCHING : These two herbs are going to be used in the dysmenorrhoea or period pain trial and they both are analgesics or good for alleviating pain.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR ALAN BENSOUSSAN : In our period pain trial we're recruiting about a hundred women. Some of them will be having acupuncture, some of them will he having herbal medicine - the standard herbal medicine for period pain - and others will be having a sham treatment, a treatment that is disguised to look like a real herbal intervention. So, that way we're able to control and have a good understanding of whether the real medicine works.

JIAN JIANG : You can feel that?

LAUREN SEE : I can feel it, maybe a little bit stronger.

JIAN JIANG: Okay, just try and relax and let energy move in properly.

This electric device is mainly for like strengthen the stimulation.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR ALAN BENSOUSSAN : We know that patients can get an improvement after one or two cycles, so we expect that they'll get an outcome fairly quickly. But of course there will be more difficult cases and they may not get a result until three or four cycles.

JIAN JIANG : Hi Lauren, how do you feel?

LAUREN SEE : Feel, feel good.

JIAN JIANG : Okay, that's good. It's time to take off the needles.

LAUREN SEE : I found the first time I had acupuncture, it helped quite a bit with the pain after about 3 or 4 weeks it did help with irritability, the headaches, and after about 2-3 months everything was fine.

BERNADETTE NUNN : So you're still having acupuncture now?

LAUREN SEE : Not now, I'm cured., I suppose you could say, yeah.

BERNADETTE NUNN : A second trial will prove whether a formula of Chinese herbs for menopausal women really does relieve their hot flushes and dryness.

MS PATCHING : We're looking at the severity and the number of hot flushing.
The formula consists of one Western herb and 7 Chinese herbs. And these Chinese herbs are mainly cooling type herbs, also nourishing herbs and they promote body fluids in the body. Because what Chinese medicine says is that basically women as they age, they lose moisture and fluids. This one here is called Huang Bai and it's extremely bitter. It's good for clearing out heat and people who are menopausal often tend to have a little bit of heat in them and we'll be using this herb to help with that and to help calm them.

BERNADETTE NUNN : As we age, our bones don't regenerate as quickly as they breakdown, so they become more brittle and prone to breaking. All the women in the menopause trial will be tested to see if the herbs they're taking also improve their bone metabolism.

MS PATCHING : We're going to look at certain chemicals, one in the blood and one in the urine and see if the balance between breakdown and build up is balanced by the herbal formula, if that is actually improved.

The reason why we think there might be a beneficial effect of the formula is that several of the herbs in the formula have got traditional use for bone breakages in Chinese medicine and also there's some scientific evidence for some of these herbs that it might be beneficial for both.

BLANCH : That report by Bernadette Nunn.

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