• Tu Youyou is known for being the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Tu Youyou is known for being the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize in Medicine. (Photo : Kuow.org)

China's Dr. Tu Youyou, who has participated in a global battle against malaria, recently won a Nobel Prize for Medicine for her help in developing an effective antimalarial drug to treat the deadly disease. Tu became the first Chinese woman to become a Nobel laureate, by winning the prestigious award for medical breakthroughs. However, her accomplishment also renews debates about the therapeutic value of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

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China's Premier Li Keqiang stated that Tu's Nobel win  represents the benefits of TCM to human health. She discovered active antimalarial ingredients.

The Chinese scientist discovered the substance Artemisinin in a plant named Artemisia annua or qńęnghńĀo, according to Nature World Report. She was inspired to extract the anti-malarial chemicals after reading an ancient 4th-century Chinese medical text.

Tu's extraction and testing of the substance was inspired by TCM writings. However, the drugs were effective while the medicinal value of most TCM is a question mark, according to Hong Kong Free Press.

In modern China TCM does not produce the same imagery in the West of hippies who support the use of alternative medicine such as herbal medicines and acupuncture. Instead, most TCM in China has been incorporated into the state-run medical system.

In fact, TCM facilities provide about 12 percent of China's health care services. A 2013 study showed that it is a $60 billion industry in China and Hong Kong.

In TCM sicknesses result from an imbalance of various elements. Symptoms can include wind, cold, heat, dryness, dampness, and a heart-shaped herb.

While the healing abilities of TCM are debatable, it is undoubtedly very harmful to the environment. It includes the deaths of endangered animals such as manta rays, tigers, rhinos, and elephants.

He Zuoxiu is a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He said that ancient TCM texts should be mined for information, but researchers should study the value of herbs they mention by using the scientific method.

However, some TCM advocates point out that Tu won the award in the "physiology or medicine" category. This represents a part of Chinese medicine's tradition.  

The first Chinese Nobel Laureates were Chen-Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao Lee. They won in 1957 for the Physics category.

This video explains TCM's herbal prescriptions: