Subject Brief – Traditional Chinese Medicine

Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medi...

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 Traditional Chinese Medicine, 中医, originated in ancient China, and has continued to evolve over the centuries.  Practitioners around the world use herbs, acupuncture and other methodologies to treat a wide range of conditions.  TCM is ubiquitous not only in mainland China, but in Taiwan, Japan and Korea as well.  In the US, Traditional Chinese Medicine is considered “Complementary and Alternative Medicine”, but it is still widely used – an estimated 3.1 million US adults received acupuncture alone in 2007[i].

Rooted in the fundamentals of Taoism, Traditional Chinese Medicine uses eight principles to analyze symptoms and categorize conditions: cold/heat, interior/exterior, excess/deficiency, and yin/yang.  Traditional Chinese Medicine also uses the theory of Five Elements (fire, earth, metal, water, wood) to explain how the body works.

Over the centuries, TCM has been used to treat countless conditions. Western scientists are still studying its effectiveness for various diseases. Some of the conditions for which TCM is known to be particularly helpful include [ii]:

  •  Obesity
  •  Diabetes and its complications, such as retinopathy 
    •  High cholesterol
    •  Depression
    •  Arthritis
    •  Back pain
    •  Male and female fertility disorders
    •  Alzheimer’s disease
    •  Parkinson’s disease
    •  Digestive disorders
  •  Recurrent cystitis
  •  Nausea and vomiting

Traditional Chinese Medicine may also be an effective treatment for the following ailments:   Allergies; Asthma; Cancer (esp. colorectal cancer); Stroke; Sinusitis; Addictions; Pain (including childbirth and abdominal); Menopausal symptoms; Osteoporosis; Infections (respiratory, bladder, vaginal); Sleep disorders; Stress; Constipation; Diabetic Neuropathy; Epilepsy

The National Library of Medicine holds approximately 2,000 volumes of Chinese medical classic books[iii].  The European Union has commissioned a team of researchers to inform the public about the safety and efficacy of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  The team includes members of 13 EU states, as well as Australia, Canada, China, Norway, Thailand and the US.  The project began in 2009 and is due to end in 2012[iv].

Data source: Journal Citation Reports (JCR) 2005-2009

ISI (in Web of Science and Journal Citation Reports) covers 4 journals dedicated to the subject of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  ISI category INTEGRATIVE & COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE increased from 10 journals in 2005 to 17 journals in 2009.


Traditional Chinese Medicine Publication Activity and Impact

 Annual citations for the 4 journals dedicated to Traditional Chinese Medicine, as well as for the category INTEGRATIVE & COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE, have increased steadily over the past five years.  The Chinese Medical Journal (Beijing) received 3,407 citations in 2009, far outpacing the other journals (and the category as a whole), but its Impact Factor is 4th out of 5 at 0.952 – 33% below the American Journal of Chinese Medicine‘s 1.422.


Data source: Journal Citation Reports (JCR) 2005-2009

Data source: Journal Citation Reports (JCR) 2005-2009

A more complete list of journals (including those not covered by ISI) is available in the scholarly article, Traditional Chinese Medical Journals Currently Published In Mainland China.

Data source: Web of Science (SCIE) 2002-2011

A simple PubMed search shows 19,574 articles on “Traditional Chinese Medicine”, and may be considered by some accounts to be the “universe of scholarly articles” on the topic. 

In contrast, ISI Web of Science (SCIE 2002-2011) shows 4,050 source items under a topic search for “Traditional Chinese Medicine”, and will be used as the baseline dataset for this analysis.

Data source: Journal Citation Reports (JCR) 2005-2009

 The widespread use of Traditional Chinese Medicine has led to further evaluation of the practice.  Although the official AMA position is “something is either medicine or it is not”, they admit that there is much that may be medicine that has simply not been proven so yet.

But scientific output on the subject is on the rise, with the volume of articles, and citations, on the subject increasing rapidly.  (Exact numbers are not provided here as the Web of Science subset is too small to provide statistically significant interpretations.) 


Data source: Web of Science (SCIE) 2002-2011

Articles citing items on the topic of Traditional Chinese Medicine are truly international, with citations coming from 137 countries internationally.   Almost 70% of citations are coming from outside of mainland China, while almost 55% of citations are coming from outside of China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan, the countries traditionally associated with practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Data source: Web of Science (SCIE) 2002-2011

Articles citing items on the topic of Traditional Chinese Medicine are also truly multi-disciplinary, with citations coming from 207 separate scientific disciplines.  The set of 4,050 source articles covering Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Web of Science database has an H-Index of 52 (meaning 52 articles received 52 or more citations).  Further, these citations came from hundreds of journals – 21 of which published at least 100 items (and more than 500 of which published at least 5 items) citing the 4,050 source articles.


Obviously, the topic of Traditional Chinese Medicine is gaining traction in the world of Western medicine.  As scientific testing and publication processes complete more in-depth examination, it is assured that a more balanced approach will be adopted, bringing us back to the balance of the eight principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

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