Analytics & competence

For about 30 years now Complemedis has enabled doctors and therapists, and their patients, to use the high-quality medicinal products used in Chinese medicine and whose botanical identity and purity have been tested in a Swiss laboratory.

What is required from the point of view of the patients, namely that the remedies used here in Switzerland should be of high quality, is not normally taken for granted in relation to the remedies used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).  It is true that there are regulatory requirements, but the enforcement of these is not always completely rigorous.  There a many different reasons for this.

TCM medicines are generally prescribed on an individual basis.  This means that each patient is prescribed herbs which are individually tailored to his individual needs.  The prescription will take into account the patient's current complaints, but also his physical constitution. In Switzerland the medical prescription for such individual situations is called the magistral prescription.  The monitoring and supervision of this document is NOT a matter for the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products - Swissmedic, but the cantonal head pharmacist.  Accordingly there are different ways in which this can be implemented because there are 26 cantons and in some of these the cantonal head pharmacist works only on a part-time basis.  Swissmedic has a role only in relation to the wholesale matters (e.g. delivery to a pharmacy by an importer of TCM medicinal products) and certainly also in relations to things such as the prohibition of herbs which contain toxic ingredients.

30,000 different types of plants grow in China and of these 12,000 are used in Chinese medicine.  Generally speaking a practitioner will require only about 500 of these in order to practise TCM properly.  These 500 plants were barely known in Switzerland before the introduction of TCM.  It is not surprising therefore that only very people in this country really understand how to use them as medicines.  Although the prescribing doctor understands their medicinal effects he has to be able to rely on someone else to provide him with good quality plants and herbs.  Authorities normally supervise things such as the bodies which the processing of a prescription, for example with regard to hygiene standards and processes which ensure that there is no confusion between substances and that expiry dates are not exceeded. They are, however, not very knowledgeable about the botany of the plants used in TCM.

It is therefore mainly the responsibility of the importers and distributors of TCM medicines to ensure that good quality products can be supplied to TCM practitioners and patients alike. This responsibility is exercised to varying degrees by the  various providers.

Since the very outset Complemedis has placed great value on high quality products. The key to this is provided by the complete analysis each batch of medicines. To this end, Complemedis set up the Phytax analytical laboratory and commissioned it to develop methods to undertake this work.

Chinese medicinal herbs come from many areas of China, from the sub-tropical forests in the South, from the high plains around the Himalayas, from the desert areas in the North-West or from the loess plains to the great rivers.  It takes a great deal of experience to know where the best quality medicines come from.  But this alone is not enough, because the environment in China has been badly affected in many places by the country's rapid economic growth.  Trustworthy suppliers  sell herbs from defined clean cultivation areas and from contractors, who act in a responsible way and do not run around spraying their crops with pesticides.  when collecting herbs from the wild, one has to know which herbs are at risk due to overuse. Harvesting, drying and processing methods should be known. People from Complemedis make regular trips to visit  the dealers and their contract farmers. They visit the manufacturing establishments and inspect these according to international guidelines. These are based on findings, which are certainly able enough to allow possible shortcomings to be unsparingly exposed.  Everything is rigorously inspected, even the water which is used to decoct or extract the herbs.  Test certificates are examined and subject to follow-up checks.  the work is performed using state-of-the-art equipment: The botanical identity of a herb is determined, first by visual inspection then with the microscope, finally with other techniques such as thin layer chromatography, mass spectrometry, gas chromatography or even DNA-analysis. Evidence of the ingredients of medicines has to be provided and, if necessary, they must be quantified.  The purity test includes analysis of heavy metals, pesticides, aflatoxins, microbial contamination and other environmental contaminants. The specialised team at Phytax has, in the last 15 years, analysed thousands of sample, namely for each batch of medicines supplied by Complemedis to its customers.

The results of the comprehensive quality inspection system are clear to see: Complemedis uses only batches of medicines which satisfy the requirements of the relevant Swiss and European authorities. The certificates of analysis which Phytax issues are valid for the authorities in Switzerland and the EU, as well as in the US, Canada, Japan, and other countries. It may be said without exaggeration that Phytax is the best laboratory in the Western world in terms of its familiarity with TCM medicines and that it is the one with the greatest experience in this field.  It is not for nothing are that people from Phytax and  Swissmedic have been elected as members of the  bodies in the EU which work to establish standards for the control of medicinal products from China and where they have also given some of the decisive technical advice.

Not all distributors want to or can afford a complete analysis of their products. There are certain loopholes, because, as reported above, the enforcement of the testing of TCM medicines is ot uniform in Switzerland.  It is also regrettable that products are sometimes ordered via addresses abroad or via the internet and that sometimes medicines are even brought directly into the country from the Far East in a suitcase.  Perhaps the patients can gain a financial advantage by doing this but whether this really also beneficial for their health is another question. From a medical ethics point of view , such practices are rather doubtful. At regular intervals we read again and again press reports about TCM medicines, which were of poor quality, loaded with heavy metals or pesticides (Phytax once found a batch of Chrysanthemum flowers which contained 32 different pesticides), or even blended with Western drugs (cortisone, Sildenafil = Viagra) or in which protected species of plants and animals have been used in their manufacture.  This is detrimental to the reputation of TCM.

From the beginning of its business operations, Complemedis has remained within the law and has achieved so much. It is also thanks to the joint efforts of Complemedis and Phytax that TCM medicine has achieved official status in Switzerland with regard to the   pharmaceutical supervisory authorities, such as  Swissmedic and the regional medical inspection authorities.

TCM can help to achieve good patient outcomes  in many cases either used alone or in combination with Western medicine.  Everyone who works in TCM and prescribe remedies can tell of a large number of cases in which they have been able to benefit their patients, either by healing them or by saving them from undergoing extensive and often expensive Western medical therapies or even operations.  The potential for TCM is still huge, and a good and controlled range of TCM medicines is a prerequisite for ensuring that this potential can be realised. 

Complemedis AG, Leinfeldstrasse 59, CH-4632 Trimbach, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.