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Bridging East and West through language of science

The book was co-edited by the USC School of Pharmacy’s James Adams and Eric Lien.

Traditional Chinese medicine is a centuries-old approach to health that has not been widely embraced by Western medicine. A new book edited by James Adams, associate professor at the USC School of Pharmacy, provides an explanation of the scientific basis for traditional Chinese medicine.

Published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the largest European organization dedicated to the advancement of the chemical sciences, Traditional Chinese Medicine: Scientific Basis for Its Use aims to make it easier for physicians, pharmacists and scientists to talk to traditional Chinese medicine practitioners in a language common to both groups.

“Before this book, people have typically written about Chinese medicine either with a purely traditional view — no science — or with a strong antidrug perspective,” Adams said.

The book, co-edited by Eric Lien, professor emeritus at the School of Pharmacy, considered various bridges whereby Western practitioners and scientists could connect to traditional Chinese medicine, such as through systems biology, medicinal chemistry and treatments for specific diseases.

Traditional Chinese medicine is built on the yin, yang and chi theories. Adams explained the basis for these theories in scientific terms: Yin is an agonist, yang is an antagonist and chi is from signaling processes in the body that regulate body functions.

Explaining the traditional Chinese tenets in terms familiar to Western practitioners opens a door for understanding and dialogue.

“Once you understand yin, yang and chi, you understand why it’s important to live in balance,” Adams said.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “traditional Chinese medicine practitioners use herbs, acupuncture and other methods to treat a wide range of conditions. In the U.S., traditional Chinese medicine is considered part of complementary and alternative medicine.”

The NIH website cites a 1997 estimate that there are 10,000 practitioners serving more than 1 million patients each year in the United States. In a 2007 national health survey, approximately 3.1 million Americans used acupuncture in the previous year, while 17 percent of all U.S. adults used natural products, such as herbs. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicines are the most common Chinese medicine therapies used nationwide.

Contributors to the book include a variety of academics and practitioners based in the United States and Asia with perspectives that bridge therapeutic and scientific queries. Kuo-Hsiung Lee and others from his lab at the University of North Carolina’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy explored modern drug discovery using traditional Chinese medicines. William C.S. Cho of Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong looked at the scientific evidence for the use of the Chinese herb, astragalus, against a variety of human diseases.

“The book shows how both Western and Eastern thought really is bridged by science because, like Western medicine, traditional Chinese medicine also has a basis in science,” Adams said. “I’m hoping that thinking opens up more dialogues among practitioners.”

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