How do doctors confirm pregnancy by checking pulse?

Chinese medicine says yes.

That’s how practitioners of “Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)” start diagnosing what ails you. It’s frequently followed by a daily prescription for foul-tasting herbs, as well as exhortations to eat or avoid particular “hot” or “cold” meals.

However, after more than 2,000 years of use, the issue remains: Is there scientific proof that traditional Chinese medicine works? With a new suggestion, a doctor at one of Beijing’s best hospitals is challenging these time-honored methods: monetary awards for proof. 

Dr. Ning Fanggang is offering a reward of 100,000 renminbi ($16,300) to anyone who can prove that traditional practitioners can detect if a lady is pregnant just by measuring her pulse. “If (someone) succeeds,” Ning assured, “I will never declare that Traditional Chinese Medicine is a phoney science.” The 38-year-old is the top surgeon at Beijing Jishuitan Hospital, which specialises in burn patients, and one of China’s most well-known physicians on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

His objective is to get readings with an accuracy of 80% using only the pulse technique. Critics argue that separating the wrist from the rest of the system invalidates a diagnosis and hence the challenge. 

Only one individual has signed up for Ning thus far, and he looks to be pulling out. 

Lu Jilai, author of the “Chinese Encyclopedia of Losing Weight and Body Building” and “Traditional Medicine Trinity Theories,” a Chengdu doctor, stated that he could even predict his patients’ next menstrual cycle. Liu failed his blindfold test, claiming that he required “the use of all senses.”

Ning, who goes by the handle Ah Bao (“Baby”) on Weibo, criticises medicinal procedures, especially TCM, to his 140,000+ followers. Ning’s original prize of 50,000 renminbi ($8,150) was rapidly quadrupled by supporters, demonstrating their excitement. 

Chinese medicine, on the other hand, is not a spectator sport for thousands of practitioners and millions of followers. It’s a 4,000-year-old tradition that includes a massive body of literature, pharmacopoeia, and philosophy, as well as a wide spectrum of treatments including acupuncture and reflexology. It’s also an annual industry worth roughly $80 billion.

The State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which functions more like a Big Herbal-style lobbying group than an industry watchdog, has responded solemnly to Ning’s challenge, stating that Chinese and Western medicine are “different but equal,” complementing each other to provide “the best possible benefit.” The contest is useless, according to the spokeswoman, and anyone who accepts it “lacks understanding.” 

Yang Zhen of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine was the first to denounce the challenge, stating China Daily that Ning had tarnished TCM’s scientific credibility. 

For officials, Chinese medicine may be a minefield, as “science” is used as a progressive word. China’s archaic culture was epitomised by values put on its traditional medicine, according to students and intellectuals of the reformist New Culture Movement of the 1910s. In his preface to “Call to Arms,” Lu Xun wrote that it was “simply a lie, purposely or not.” But even today, Lu — a brilliant satirist who studied medicine in Japan — is considered controversial.

The traditional techniques survived both the Republic of China (1911-1949) and the iconoclastic Cultural Revolution as educated liberals began to celebrate Western science. This was owing in part to medicine’s ingrained position in society. Practitioners inherited secrets passed down through the years; as Mao conducted civil war, “barefoot physicians” supplied solace and support when there was no other option. 

Traditional medicine had evolved to encompass astrology, divination, and incantation throughout imperial times. Nationalists hailed TCM as a distinctive Chinese ideology free of feudal customs and a bulwark against Western imperialist thought in the post-Mao period.

Ironically, it was this logic, backed by persistent superstition and wholesale greed, that permitted many of these heinous aspects to resurface. “In recent years, government policies have mostly considered TCM as a placebo,” says Xu Yunyun, a gynaecologist with 227,000 Weibo followers. “The public infatuation has amplified the results, but it also made it less scientific.” 

As a result, a small business has sprung up to refute TCM fraud.

Traditional medicine fraud

Zhang Wuben, for example, was known for his mung bean-based cure-all diet. He sold DVDs, books, and 45-minute consultations for $45 each. When bean prices skyrocketed in 2010, Zhang’s medical credentials were shown to be bogus. 

Wang Lin, a celebrity Taoist “master,” informed customers including Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and China’s richest man, Jack Man, that he had treated cancer and could create “snakes from thin air” using qigong, a spiritualist practise incorporating TCM methods such as breathing exercises and meditation. Wang escaped to Hong Kong in 2013 after allegations of medical fraud, tax evasion, and collusion with criminals and corrupt authorities.

Yang Zhen, who was the first to join Ning’s pregnancy challenge, was also the first to start slamming her. Yang suggested that the results would be “unpersuasive” because of the small sample size of 32 women. Yang’s justification that hospital laws may prevent him from “practising” outdoors was equally convincing. 

The best approach to assess the efficiency of TCM’s physiotherapy advantages, according to Xu, the gynaecologist, is “random double-blind studies, which is the same for every medical theory.” 

Unfortunately, rather of proving or challenging their preconceptions, most TCM practitioners prefer to use “scientific” approaches to validate prejudice. According to a 2009 Cochrane Collaboration review of 72 such trials, “not enough good quality trial evidence to make any conclusion about the efficacy of the evaluated treatment[s]… due specifically to the poor methodology and heterogeneity of the studies reviewed,” there was simply “not enough good quality trial evidence to make any conclusion about the efficacy of the evaluated treatment[s].” 

Organizers claim Yang has withdrawn from the challenge — something he denies — and they’re looking for other certified TCM practitioners to fill his spot. The contest will be cancelled if no one responds by the end of next week. 

The dispute over TCM’s limits, on the other hand, will continue. “Legitimate doctors favour — and rely on — current scientific assessment procedures,” Xu argues. “Only ‘legends’ and TV would attempt to make the pulse diagnostic appear supernatural.”

For more information, make an appointment with Dr. Chetna Jain, a pregnancy doctor in Gurgaon.

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