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TCM for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By Diane Sheppard, Ph.D., L.Ac.

We all get tired, but sometimes “tired” is insufficient to describe a serious condition. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is far more than just being tired.  This baffling and little understood affliction is a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue, often associated with muscle and joint pain. It may worsen with physical or mental activity and does not improve with rest. Those affected with CFS can get so run down that the disorder interferes with the ability to function in day-to-day activities, and some become severely disabled and even bedridden, which in turn creates its own set of problems.

In addition to extreme fatigue, CFS can encompass a wide range of other manifestations including, but not limited to, headaches, flu-like symptoms, and chronic pain not dissimilar from fibromyalgia.

For those suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help relieve many of the symptoms. It is well known that TCM effectively relieves aches and pains associated with CFS.  Additionally, acupuncture and Oriental medicine, by strengthening Qi, can improve overall health to help you avoid getting sick as often and assist with a quicker recovery, as well as to increase vitality and stamina.

There has been much research on CFS and TCM recently which indicates promising results for suffers of this debilitating condition. A study in China evaluated cupping as a treatment for chronic fatigue. All of the study patients complained of the classic symptoms of CFS, unusual and severe fatigue and additional problems with headaches, insomnia, muscle-joint pains, backaches and pains, poor memory, gastrointestinal disturbances and a bitter taste in the mouth. Patients ranging in age from 28-54 received sliding cupping treatments twice a week for a total of 12 treatments. The results showed there was significant improvement in energy levels, less insomnia, better memory, and reduced spontaneous sweating, sore throat, profuse dreams, abdominal distention, diarrhea, and alternating constipation and diarrhea.

In another study conducted at Guangzhou University in Guangzhou, China, subjects with CFS were evenly divided by random selection into an acupuncture group and a control group. The observation group was treated with acupuncture and the control group was treated with an injection. Participants completed a fatigue scale and results showed that people who received acupuncture reported significantly more relief from their symptoms. A similar study was conducted in Hong Kong that gave half of the group conventional needle acupuncture and half (the control group) sham acupuncture. Using a fatigue scale, improvements in physical and mental fatigue were significantly larger in the acupuncture group, and no adverse events occurred.

In meta-analysis, 28 papers were statistically reviewed in order to assess the success of acupuncture as a therapy for CFS. The analysis showed that treatment groups receiving acupuncture had superior results when compared with control groups. As a result, it was concluded that acupuncture can be effective for CFS.  Therefore, it merits consideration as a viable treatment protocol for patients and is deserving of additional research.

Diane Sheppard is the founding owner of AcQpoint Wellness Center in La Quinta. She is a licensed acupuncturist with a Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine and can be reached at (760) 775.7900. www.AcQPoint.com.

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