How Traditional Chinese Medicine Treats Chronic Fatigue

Elaine Hickman Health 0 Comments

chinese medicine practitioner making a remedy

It’s common to feel extremely tired these days. Especially with the busy lifestyle most of us are living.

With this lifestyle, it doesn’t take long for mind-numbing exhaustion to become a serious problem.

Combined with high levels of stress, it’s the perfect recipe for a condition called chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

The bad news is, an increasing number of people are struggling with CFS.

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In fact, according to Virtual Medical Center, approximately 30 per 10,000 Australians are diagnosed with CFS. In America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 2.5 million people are afflicted with the disorder.

The actual rate of CFS may even be higher had it not been mistaken most of the time for ordinary fatigue. That’s because no specific tests or biological indications exist for chronic fatigue syndrome.

Only by ruling out every medical condition possible that may have caused the fatigue can the doctor diagnose a patient with CFS. Not a very reliable system.

This is why so many people who suspect they have CFS look to alternative medicine to get some relief. And this includes Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

tired girl with chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is characterized by disabling fatigue that persists for at least six months or more. After the cause of fatigue has been declared as clinically unidentified and reoccurring, a person has to experience at least 4 of the following symptoms:

  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Cognitive: poor concentration, impairment of long-term memory
  • Musculoskeletal: muscle pain, joint pain, tenderness, painful lymph nodes
  • Sleep problems like difficulty falling asleep, experiencing disturbed sleep patterns, or being unable to feel refreshed even after long hours of sleep
  • Social isolation
  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Allergies
  • Night sweats, dizziness, and palpitations
  • Depression, panic attacks, and anxiety
  • Nausea, diarrhea, or stomach pain

Note that the primary symptom – physical and mental fatigue – should be present along with four accompanying symptoms.

Furthermore, the red flag here is for these symptoms to get in the way of everyday life.

CFS significantly affects a person’s work or academic performance, social interaction, and personal relationships.

Treating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Using Traditional Chinese Medicine

Whereas orthodox medicine only offers temporary relief from CFS symptoms (e.g. acetaminophen and ibuprofen for headaches, antidepressants for depressed mood, and anti-inflammatory for muscle and joint pain), TCM provides a permanent solution to chronic fatigue.

Plus, most TCM approaches don’t have side effects like all drugs do.

That being said, here are some known ways on how TCM treats chronic fatigue syndrome.

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1. Acupuncture

This ancient Chinese practice involves the use of threadlike needles to be inserted into specific Qi meridians.

The goal is to restore the balance by either calming the yang energy or hyping up the yin energy.

If the liver and the spleen are identified to be the root causes, then these should be the target meridians for the acupuncture treatment. Since acupuncture is considered a direct method, its effects are nearly immediate.

Just don’t expect it to feel like drinking a massive cup of coffee.

2. Herbal Medicine

Ginseng and sweet wormwood are known to combat fatigue.

Valerian and chamomile tea are also known to have 30 and 20 percent efficacy in resolving sleep problems, respectively. So these options are certainly worth a try.

If you’re interested in this approach, you can check out this list of the most powerful herbal remedies to increase your energy.

Nowadays, Chinese herbal medicines are even used by the Westerners as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

3. Tai Chi

This Chinese meditative exercise enables one to find the center and brings back the life energy to balance. It enhances the Yin energy and fights fatigue.

4. A Healthy Diet

In Chinese medicine, the stomach is the focal point for a person’s Qi. Thus, a poor lifestyle and an unhealthy diet are risk factors for CFS.

Over-consumption of sweets, trans fats, alcohol, and processed foods contributes to a lethargic disposition.

You are what you eat after all.


As mentioned, CFS has a clinically undefined cause. CFS is only diagnosed when every medical possibility for the cause of the prolonged fatigue is considered.

A person with medically diagnosed CFS has to undergo several blood tests and other examinations to rule out conditions like infection, diabetes, hypothyroidism, anemia, liver dysfunction, and the like.

Risk Factors

Some of the risk factors of CFS are…

  • Genetic Predispositions: If depression runs in the family, there is a higher chance for a person to experience CFS.
  • Depression: The relationship remains unclear, but most patients diagnosed with CFS also show signs of depression. Experts are yet to probe whether CFS causes depression or depression causes CFS.
  • Infection: According to the site, Virtual Medical Center, a number of CFS cases occurred following an infection. For instance, the Ross River virus, which is carried by mosquitoes, triggers the onset of chronic fatigue. Also, among the many kinds of infections, infectious mononucleosis is known to be most closely related to CFS.
  • Sex: CFS is found to occur 2 to 4 times more in females than in males. This perhaps shows the vulnerability of women, being the more sensitive beings, to emotional variations.

The Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective on CFS

While CFS remains a clinical puzzle in the West, the Chinese have a single explanation for CFS: a deficiency of Qi or life energy.

In traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Qi primarily determines a person’s vitality. It’s the circulating life force, which operates under the principle of balance.

An impaired thyroid, for instance, disrupts a person’s yin and yang and may indicate a problem with either of the 8 connected acupuncture points, namely the San Jiao, spleen, bladder, kidney, small intestine, stomach, liver, and gallbladder. In short, TCM always treats one problem as a whole.

Similarly, in the case of CFS, Chinese medicine treats the problem holistically.

It finds the impaired acupuncture point/channel and brings back the person’s Qi to balance. Remember that the Qi consists of two energy forces known as the yin and yang.

Yin energy is cold and slow; it is obtained from activities like deep breathing, meditating, and sleeping.

The Yang energy is the opposite of yin; it is hot and fast.

Common derivative activities for yang include mental concentration, sports, and other external factors that lead to stress.

According to Dr. Xing of Evergreen Chinese Medical Centre, the most common patterns for CFS are the following: liver Qi stagnation and stomach, liver or spleen disharmony; Yang deficiency and spleen Qi; Yin deficiency and/or heart blood deficiency; heat toxicity; dampness retention and phlegm obstruction; and kidney Qi and Yang deficiency. In most cases, the problem areas for CFS are the spleen and the liver.

To Western medicine, the liver serves as an organ primarily for metabolizing drugs, detoxifying chemicals, and secreting bile. To TCM, meanwhile, the liver assumes a different function. It regulates a person’s flow of Qi and emotions. It also stores blood. Thus, stagnation of blood and energy and emotional depression commonly occur when the liver is in discord. Overall, a person’s entire system is depressed.

The spleen, to the Chinese medicine, assumes a critical role in the conversion and transportation of fluids and nutrients throughout the different parts of the body. Most importantly, the spleen upholds the muscles.

If the spleen is impaired, then normally the muscle becomes weak and the fluids become disrupted. It is for this reason that the CFS symptoms include joint and muscle pain. Remember that all organs are interdependent on one another. This is how the Qi works.

While Western medicine works to alleviate the symptoms of the CFS, Traditional Chinese Medicine offers a permanent and holistic solution to your chronic fatigue illness.

The fact that many doctors use all of the above-mentioned TCM treatments to complement their prescriptions is already proof of the efficacy of Chinese medicines. Visit any known Chinese medicine practitioner near you.

Don’t let fatigue hinder you from being productive and doing what you love.

About the Author

Elaine Hickman

Elaine Hickman is a practitioner at Freedom Chinese Medicine, a Chinese acupuncture clinic in Melbourne. She has worked in various settings in Australia and China and has helped numerous patients with their ailments.

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