A critical examination of the main premises of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2020 May;132(9-10):260-273. doi: 10.1007/s00508-020-01625-w. Epub 2020 Mar 20.


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) consists of a plethora of therapeutic approaches aiming to both characterize and treat diseases. Its utilization has gained significant popularity in the western world and is even backed by the World Health Organization's decision to include TCM diagnostic patterns into the new revision of the International Classification of Diseases code, the global standard for diagnostic health information. As these developments and potentially far-reaching decisions can affect modern healthcare systems and daily clinical work as well as wildlife conservation, its underlying factual basis must be critically examined. This article therefore provides an overview of the evidence underlying the basic TCM concepts, such as Qi, meridians, acupuncture, pulse and tongue diagnostics as well as traditional herbal treatments. Moreover, it discusses whether scientific literature on TCM reflects the current standard for evidence-based research, as described in good scientific practice and good clinical practice guidelines. Importantly, misinformation regarding the therapeutic efficacy of animal-derived substances has lead and currently leads to problems with wildlife preservation and animal ethics. Nevertheless, the (re-)discovery of artemisinin more than 50 years ago introduced a novel development in TCM: the commingling of Eastern and Western medicine, the appreciation of both systems. The need for more rigorous approaches, fulfilment of and agreement to current guidelines to achieve high-quality research are of utmost relevance. Thereby, ancient knowledge of herbal species and concoctions may serve as a possible treasure box rather than Pandora's box.

Keywords: Acupuncture; Meridians; Pulse diagnostics; Qi; Tongue diagnostics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy*
  • Animals
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional*
  • World Health Organization