What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disease which is poorly understood by western medicine. It is unclear what triggers CFS, but it often begins after a bacterial or viral infection. It is more common in women than in men, suggesting there may also be a hormonal factor.
As well as extreme tiredness, the symptoms of CFS include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Muscle aches, pains or stiffness
- Sore throat or glands
- Heavy limbs
- Dizziness or nausea
- Sleep problems
- Poor concentration or memory
These symptoms can interfere with day to day activities and seriously reduce the sufferer's quality of life. There is no known cure for CFS and conventional treatment is limited to managing symptoms such as pain, sleep problems and depression.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in Traditional Chinese Medicine
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), your state of health depends on the balance of yin and yang within the body. It also depends on the proper functioning of all the organs and vital substances such as qi and blood. There are many different factors which can upset this balance, including infections, poor diet or lifestyle, emotional stress and overwork.
When the body and mind fall into disharmony, illness occurs. In TCM, diseases are diagnosed using what are known as “patterns”. These describe which organs or vital substances are being affected and how. They are identified by a combination of the patient's symptoms, medical history and physical signs such as the pulse and tongue.
There are several different patterns which may cause the symptoms of CFS. A person may have more than one of these patterns at the same time, making diagnosis more complicated.
Spleen Qi Deficiency/Spleen Yang Deficiency
The Spleen is one of the major digestive organs in TCM, along with the Stomach. Together they break down food into its nutrients and transport them around the body. You can visualize the way in which the Stomach and Spleen work by imagining them as a cooking pot.
The Stomach stirs the food and breaks it down into a soup-like substance. The Spleen then extracts the nutrients and transforms them into molecules that can be used by the body, transporting them to where they are needed. You can picture this as the Spleen warming the soup and dispersing the steam around the body.
If the Spleen does not have enough qi or yang energy to warm the soup, it stays in liquid form and begins to pool and stagnate within the body. This leads to another TCM pattern known as dampness and phlegm obstruction. Dampness and phlegm are thick and heavy. They can block the free flow of qi and blood and cause a number of different physical and mental symptoms.
Some people are genetically predisposed to weak Spleen qi, but it can also be damaged by eating too many hard to digest foods such as fatty, cold or raw foods. If you have a pattern of Spleen qi or Spleen yang deficiency, your main symptoms will be:
- Mental fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Heavy, aching limbs
- Digestive issues such as reduced appetite, bloating or loose stools
- Swelling or edema
- Weight gain
Kidney Qi Deficiency/Kidney Yang Deficiency
In TCM, the Kidneys are considered to be the powerhouse of the body. They store yin and yang and along with the Spleen, they provide the energy for all of our biological processes. The Kidneys can be depleted either by overwork or long-term illness. This leads to fatigue and other symptoms associated with CFS.
If you have CFS due to a Kidney qi or Kidney yang deficiency, your main symptoms will be:
- Feelings of cold in the body and limbs
- Weak knees
- Impotence in men and irregular periods in women
When the body's defences are weakened due to prolonged stress or infections, it is left open to attack by what are known as the six evils. These are pathogenic factors which can enter the body and cause imbalances in the organs, qi and blood.
If you are healthy, you should be able to fight off pathogens such as excess heat easily. However, if you have an underlying weakness in your defence system, they can become lodged in your body where over time, they become toxic.
Heat toxicity can affect any of the organs or tissues causing symptoms such as fever, inflammation and pain. If your CFS is caused by heat toxicity, the main symptoms will be:
- Sore muscles or joints
- Sore throat and glands
If heat toxicity begins to affect your Heart, you may also have symptoms such as palpitations, anxiety and insomnia.
How can Acupuncture Help Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Acupuncture for CFS works in a number of different ways. It can improve Spleen and Kidney function by boosting qi and helping it to circulate freely. It can also help to expel pathogens such as dampness, phlegm and heat.
Acupuncture can also help to relieve CFS symptoms such as pain and insomnia while improving energy levels throughout the day.
Acupuncture treatment can be supported by herbal medicine and making changes to your diet and lifestyle. Your acupuncturist will identify your pattern in your first consultation and work with you to develop a treatment plan which is tailored to your individual needs.