CNN  — 

Herbal remedies have been used by healers around the world for centuries to prevent and treat disease. But it’s in China that the practice has been most extensively used and documented.

Advocates have campaigned to integrate Traditional Chinese Medicine into mainstream global health care and those long-standing TCM efforts have paid off: The World Health Assembly, the governing body of the World Health Organization, on Saturday formally approved the latest version of its influential global compendium, which includes a chapter on traditional medicine for the first time.

However, not everybody is happy with the controversial move. Some in the biomedical community say WHO overlooked the toxicity of some herbal medicine and the lack of evidence it works, while animal rights advocates say it will further endanger animals such as the tiger, pangolin, bear and rhino, whose organs are used in some TCM cures.

In a strongly worded editorial, Scientific American magazine called the move “an egregious lapse in evidence-based thinking and practice.”

Dr. Arthur Grollman, a professor of pharmacological science and medicine at Stony Brook University in New York, agrees with this assessment. “It will confer legitimacy on unproven therapies and add considerably to the costs of health care,” he said.

“Widespread consumption of Chinese herbals of unknown efficacy and potential toxicity will jeopardize the health of unsuspecting consumers worldwide.”

A man measures ingredients in a traditional Asian apothecary.

Global norm?

Details about traditional medicine will be included in the 11th version of the WHO’s global compendium, known as the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, or ICD, for the first time.

It’s an important document that categorizes thousands of diseases and medical diagnoses, influences how research is conducted and can be used to determine insurance coverage.

WHO said the “purpose of the ICD is to capture information on all health conditions and their treatment – the reason for including traditional medicine conditions and practices is that it is used by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.”

While traditional medicine originated in ancient China, today it’s widely used throughout Asia, including in Japan and Korea, and it took the WHO more than a decade to get representatives from Asian countries to con