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Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Welcome to the TCM Guide

Welcome to the Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine Research Guide

This guide is an introduction to finding information pertaining to Acupuncture and TCM

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a holistic patient care system, based on ancient philosophical foundations and incorporating treatment modalities such as acupuncture, tui na massage, and herbal formulas (patent medicines). TCM evolved from classical Chinese medicine in response to advances in the West over the course of the 20th century. As innovative public health and Western medical practices emerged, those with obvious benefits were integrated with ancient classical practice. This merger helped to preserve much of the classical medicine while still ensuring that clinical practice kept pace with important advances in areas such as epidemiology and infection control.

This subject guide introduces resources for locating studies in PubMed and other research databases as well as core and classical texts, journals, and websites.

Be sure to check out our "How To" Guides to help you get started with search skills, writing and citation tips.

Research - Known Issues and On-going Debates

This introduction to some of the issues and on-going debates is intended to prompt further inquiry and critical evaluation of what you find – and don’t find – in the research. It is not a comprehensive overview of the field or the state of the research in the field. Librarians are available to help you explore the research, and help you answer questions about the context of that research.

  • AEAM, one of the oldest systems of medicine in the world, is based on concepts unknown in western medicine science such as qi, yin yang and meridians. Many criticisms in western academia stem from this lack of understanding.  
  • AEAM is a holistic individualized medicine. There is disagreement as to whether it lends itself to evidence-based medicine which focuses on Randomized Controlled Trials, and generalizable evidence, rather than the individual patient. 
  • A common issue in reviews of AEAM research is that some studies are of weak design, and that results aren’t conclusive, therefore you will often see more rigorous research needed.1
  • Acupuncture treatment including needle placement may vary depending on the practitioner.This causes distrust in the efficacy in Western systems that are heavily focused on standardization and generalizability. 
  • Studies have shown that acupuncture can be effective in reducing pain such as for low back and in improving quality of life. For other conditions, evidence is inconclusive 3.  
  • The use of sham acupuncture as a control raises some challenges – is it really an appropriate control? 2
  • Critics have suggested that studies showing the efficacy of acupuncture could be the placebo effect, which is poorly understood.2
  • There are concerns about contamination with heavy metals and other materials, and irregularities in dosage and strength of herbs.4
  • There are conservationist and ethical concerns about the use of endangered animals in some TCM. 
  1. Fung FY, Linn YC. Developing traditional Chinese medicine in the era of evidence-based medicine: current evidences and challenges. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:425037: doi:10.1155/2015/425037 
  2. Deng S, Zhao X, DU R, et al. Is acupuncture no more than a placebo? Extensive discussion required about possible bias. Exp Ther Med. 2015;10(4):1247-1252. doi:10.3892/etm.2015.2653 
  3. Acupuncture: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. Updated Jan. 2016. Accessed April, 4, 2021.  
  4.  Liu SH, Chuang WC, Lam W, Jiang Z, Cheng YC. Safety surveillance of traditional Chinese medicine: current and future. Drug Saf. 2015;38(2):117-128. doi:10.1007/s40264-014-0250-z   


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