Not surprisingly, the medical establishment has pounced on every last case of toxicity as proof that this therapy is more dangerous than steroids. The main side effects reported by patients taking the decoction have been generally mild and reversible. They included headache, nausea, bloated stomach and loose bowels. There was no evidence of blood liver or kidney toxicity in the short term study of children, but two cases of reversible liver function abnormalities in the longer studies.
However, cases of hepatitis, from drinking herbal tea, have been reported (The Lancet, 12 Sept 1992). One 28 year old woman recovered, but a few months later took herbs for another three weeks and developed liver failure. She was given an emergency liver transplant, but still died.
A large number of clinics in this country offer traditional Chinese herbal therapy. Some are run by Chinese doctors with extensive training in traditional Chinese herbal medicine. Others are run by people with no medical training whatsoever. Although the Chinese community in Britain may well be able to distinguish reputable practitioners from the more dubious, Westerners remain vulnerable to exploitation. A Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine does exist, but it's estimated that only 120 or so of the 600 clinics in Britain are registered.
Some Chinese creams or ointments have been found to be amplified with (often impure) steroids like prednisolone. In spite of these reports, the exact risk level associated with traditional Chinese Herbal Therapy is not known,although it's well to balance these isolated cases against the known damage caused by everything that conventional medicine has on offer.
Writing in The Lancet (12 Sept 1992) Malcolm Rustin and David Atherton say: "TCHT seems to be much less toxic than drugs such as cyclosporin and any other treatments for severe atopic eczema, including oral corticosteroids, oral photochemotherapy and azathioprine. No hematological or biochemical abnormalities have been detected so far in any adults with atopic eczema under our care who have received a formulation of TCHT that has been prepared with careful attention to high quality control standards."
Clive Couldwell writes regularly for the London Times and the Daily Telegraph on a variety of subjects.