Bridging the East and the West through the Common Language of Science

Traditional Chinese medicine is a centuries-old approach to health and a life balance that has not been widely embraced by Western medicine. A new book edited by James Adams, associate professor at the USC School of Pharmacy, takes on the challenge of providing an explanation of the scientific basis for the 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 anti-drug perspective,” says Adams.

Adams and his co-editor, Eric J. Lien, professor emeritus from the USC School of Pharmacy, set out to create a groundwork whereby physicians and pharmacists could comfortably talk to traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. Traditional Chinese medicine is built on the yin, yang and chi theories. Adams explains the basis for these theories in scientific language – 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,” says Adams. The book considers various bridges whereby Western practitioners and scientists can connect to traditional Chinese medicine through systems biology, medicinal chemistry, and treatments for specific diseases.

The National Institutes of Health states that “traditional Chinese medicine practitioners use herbs, acupuncture and other methods to treat a wide range of conditions. In the US, traditional Chinese medicine is considered part of the complementary and alternative medicine.” The NIH website cites a 1997 estimate that there are 10,000 practitioners serving more than one million patients each year in the US. In a 2007 national health survey, an estimated 3.1 million Americans had used acupuncture in the previous year while 17% of all US adults use natural products including 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 US and Asia with perspectives that bridge various therapeutic and scientific queries. For example, Kuo-Hsiung Lee and others from his lab at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy explore modern drug discovery using traditional Chinese medicines while William C.S. Cho, Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong, looks 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,” says Adams. “I’m hoping that thinking opens up more dialogues among practitioners.”

For more information about the book, visit