Chinese medicine and Chronic Fatigue

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is characterised by persistent fatigue and accompanied by other specific symptoms. It  a debilitating disorder that can have a major impact on the quality of a person‘s life.

Although Western medicine currently finds CFS challenging to diagnose and treat, traditional Chinese medicine has recognised it for thousands of years and offers treatment.

The Chinese medicine approach to treating CFS

Chinese medicine practitioners believe that blockages in the body’s ‘life energy’ – qi – are responsible for illness and disease. Acupuncture treatments seek to restore the natural flow of qi and return the body to harmony, often in combination with other treatment methods.

In Chinese medicine a typical diagnosis for chronic fatigue syndrome would indicate:

  • kidney-adrenal exhaustion
  • spleen-stomach digestion deficiency
  • liver stagnation and blockage
  • and a ‘disturbed spirit’ – an overtaxing of one’s vital energy resources.

I have been treating chronic fatigue syndrome for more than 30 years with acupuncture supported by Chinese herbal medicine, cupping and moxobustion. I devise an individualised program for each patient, balancing the body and raising energy levels.

Among other effects, acupuncture is known to encourage the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin (which regulates your mood and sleep) and endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers) and this allows CFS patients to enjoy a good night’s sleep after treatment. Getting the right amount of sleep every night is a key factor for faster recovery from CFS. It’s all about raising the vital energy.

Nutrition is also addressed; and after the body is balanced, gentle exercise is introduced according to the patient‘s ability to handle and maintain this.

The same treatment approach can also be helpful for adrenal fatigue, post viral fatigue, and hypothyroidism.

Is acupuncture effective for treating CFS?

The 2008 British Acupuncture Council’s systematic review of studies on the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome with acupuncture and moxibustion in China concluded that acupuncture treatment is effective [1]. However, it was noted that these studies were not randomised controlled trials.

In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurotransmitters. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for insomnia [2].

Clinical (randomised controlled) studies referenced in the review have revealed that acupuncture:

  • can improve the quality of life of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome [3]
  • can relieve physical and mental fatigue in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome [4]
  • is a safe, effective treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome [5]
  • has a good general effect on the complex symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, especially on lassitude, anorexia, insomnia, amnesia, diarrhoea, and general pain [6]
  • acupuncture plus moxibustion combined with a psychological approach is an effective therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome [7].