Hong Kong (CNN)Herbs to increase breast milk supply and heal the spleen. Traditional remedies which promise to cure insomnia and acne. Secret cancer treatments that have been ignored or suppressed by Western medicine.
Some European doctors think Chinese medicine should come with a health warning
Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have a long history of making outsized claims, not least in the case of fertility and virility, where demand for tiger penis and rhino horn has devastated wild populations.
Quackery and false claims exist in all branches of medicine, but doctors in Europe are concerned that unverified claims made under the guise of TCM are being spread worldwide by social media, inadvertently aided by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Two leading European scientific and medical bodies say the WHO has legitimized all forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine by including TCM in the upcoming edition of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), a hugely influential compendium used by health practitioners around the globe.
The inclusion of TCM "may lead some to see it as a legitimization of what are actually unfounded claims," warned the European Academies' Science Advisory Council (EASAC) and the Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) in a joint statement this month.
"There is risk in misleading patients and doctors and in increasing pressures for reimbursement by public health systems at a time of limited resources," the statement said.
More broadly, there is growing concern that people who turn to the internet for home remedies could expose themselves to serious harm. For example, black salve, which claims to treat tumors but actually burns flesh and can leave people with horrific disfigurements.
"Social media now makes it very easy to get hold of (misleading information)," said George Griffin, a professor of Infectious Diseases and Medicine at St. George's, University of London. "Unscrupulous people who wish to sell these products can easily put things on social media without any formal verification."