years ago this April, Jill Robinson first walked onto a bear bile farm. On that day in April 1993, Jill could have walked away, but she chose to act and do what she could. Today, you also have a choice. If everyone reading this donated just US$20, it would pay for the care of over 150 bears at our China sanctuary for a full year. Please help us celebrate 20 years of progress. Donate US$20 today (or whatever you can afford).
Herbal products better than bear bile at killing cancer cells
5th Pong Ding Yuen International Traditional Chinese Medicine Symposium delivers positive results
Assistant Professor Feng Yibin presents his preliminary research results.
Frank Pong (centre) briefs delegates on the horrors of bear farming and the research.
Jill summarises Animals Asia's work to bring an end to bear farming in China.
Participants at the symposium, which delivered positive findings on TCM.
Armed with a generous grant from the Pong Ding Yuen Endowment Fund for Education and Research in Chinese-Western Medicine, which has been matched by Hong Kong Government funding, Assistant Professor Feng Yibin and his colleagues at the University of Hong Kong School of Chinese Medicine began researching the effectiveness of various Chinese herbal alternatives for ailments commonly treated using bear bile products, early in 2008.
Many people believe that bear bile cannot be replaced by herbal alternatives because of a lack of supporting systematic, comparative research. The aim of Professor Feng and his team is to conduct research to compare the effectiveness of bear bile and herbal alternatives, using modern, rigorous scientific procedures.
Although the studies are in their early stages, and are scheduled to continue for at least the next four years, some preliminary findings were presented by Professor Feng at the 5th Pong Ding Yueng International Traditional Chinese Medicine Symposium, held on 13 December 2008 at the University of Hong Kong School of Chinese Medicine.
Bear bile is used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine as a “cold” medicine to treat a variety of conditions, such as removing heat from the liver, relieving convulsions and spasms, visual disorders, reducing heat or fever, and clearing toxic chemicals. In Western medicine, ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), a bile acid found in high concentrations in bear bile, is known to modify cholesterol absorption and excretion, and is used in the treatment of gall stones, biliary cirrhosis, and liver cancers. UDCA for Western medicinal use is produced semi-synthetically from precursors derived from the bile of cattle slaughtered for the beef industry. Bear bile used by some traditional Chinese medicine practitioners is largely derived from bile farms, in which live bears held in horrific conditions are “milked” for their bile.
Professor Feng described studies comparing extracts from two species of the herb "coptis", against raw bear bile and purified active ingredients from bear bile. The tests showed coptis to be far more effective than bear bile at killing cancer cell lines.
These initial results are very exciting. Further tests are planned to compare coptis and its extracts with bear bile, for their effectiveness against a variety of liver conditions.
Following his presentation at the symposium, Professor Feng held a press conference alongside Frank Pong from the Pong Ding Yuen Endowment Fund for Education and Research in Chinese-Western Medicine, and our founder Jill Robinson. The press conference attracted journalists from a variety of Hong Kong Chinese publications, including the Apple Daily, the Oriental Daily News, the Sun, the Sing Tao Daily, Ta Kung Pao, Wen Wei Po, the Commercial Daily, and the Metro Daily. Mr Pong introduced Professor Feng and Jill to the press, and gave a summary of his interest in the work, in which he said:
“I am told that doctors in traditional Chinese medicine no longer depend on bear bile for the treatment of illnesses related to the liver. There are other forms of medication that are just as, or even more, effective than bear bile powder.
What is more, the dried bile juice extracted from the bears kept in cages often contains materials from the infected livers of the bears, as the tubes that are inserted into the abdomens of the bears are left in place for as long as the bears are used for the extraction (it is an open wound). The more modern open-fistula method claimed to be more humane is just as damaging. Nearly all of the bears kept this way die of liver cancer, and while their livers develop the cancerous growth, their bile continues to be extracted.
With modern and scientific understanding of the effects of the medicinal properties of the contents of the bear bile, many studies have been done to show that the bear bile can be replaced by more effective and hygienic medications.
The research work, which started in early 2008 and is being carried out by Dr Feng, aims to establish herbal alternatives to bear bile.
I hope Professor Feng's work will show good results and help to put an end to the very cruel practice of bear bile farming.“
Jill Robinson gave a short presentation on the horrors of bear farming and the work of Animals Asia, which includes investigations into the safety for the consumer of bile products from diseased and mistreated bears. Professor Feng described his research in more detail for the journalists.
The results of the research, and the press reports which follow, will hopefully provide further arguments for the elimination of bear bile from the traditional Chinese medicine pharmacopoeia, and consequently the relief from torturous suffering endured by so many bears in China and beyond.