Articles > Treating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) with Chinese Medicine

6 Apr 2007

Chinese Medicine is a completely separate and distinct system of medicine that evolved over two thousand years independently from western medicine. Chinese medicine and acupuncture treatments are all individualized on the basis of a person’s Chinese pattern discrimination. It takes into consideration all of the signs and symptoms of the patient. There is no one Chinese “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) Herb” or even a single CFS formula or treatment. Chinese medicine patterns are much more inclusive than western medicine disease diagnosis. People are always more than a single disease, so the treatment needs to address the whole person. 
Through questioning, pulse taking, tongue examining, a Chinese medicine doctor will be able to discern where the imbalance is that caused the “fatigue.” The doctor then can try to restore the balance by selecting different acupuncture points and Chinese medicine ingredients. In other words, Chinese medicine does not just combine several herbs or points which are reputed to be “good for CFS,” but rather provides a carefully designed formula or point combination to rebalance every aspect of the patient’s condition.
Having established that, there are several general patterns of CFS we most often encounter in the clinical setting.
Qi Stagnation and/or Blood Stasis
Because the human body constantly moves and circulates Qi and Blood, if there is an obstruction, then the supply of our energy will be interrupted. This will cause some deficit in the energy supply. Furthermore, the body will constantly try to fix this problem, which in turn will consume more energy. In the long run, this adds up to a big drain of energy. Interestingly, some people may not even realize that they have such an obstruction. They don’t feel the pain until someone touches them. Most people, however, do notice the pain somewhere. The difficulty here is that often this is not the source of the problem but a referred pain from someplace else. If this obstruction goes on without adequate treatment and remains unresolved for a long time, it will become chronic (CFS) and the patient’s condition is likely to be labeled as fibromyalgia as well.
Spleen Qi Deficiency
This pattern is often accompanied by digestion or metabolism problems. The digestive system will easily get upset. Adding to our modern faulty diet, the patient often also presents Damp Heat, shown in the yellow thick tongue coating. Spleen is responsible for transportation and transformation of the food according to Chinese medicine. If the Spleen is Deficient, one can not transform food into energy and becomes fatigued.
Blood Deficiency
This pattern is equivalent to anemia but is not equal to just supplementing iron Deficiency. For this pattern, the intent of Chinese medicine is to help the body restore the ability to generate blood by itself. 
Kidney Deficiency
Chinese medicine believes the Kidney to be the “federal reserve” of our well being. If we use up our daily energy we automatically tap into this Kidney energy, which is fundamental to vitality, fertility, and longevity. People with this pattern often experience dull lower back pain.
If people suffer CFS due to insomnia, then the focus should be shifted to dealing with insomnia as the main complaint. This will require a new set of Chinese medicine pattern discrimination.
For all the specific patterns described here, treatments combining acupuncture points, Chinese herbs and formulas are specially designed, and modifications are made to fit individual differences.

Paul (Chyi-Shyang) Lin, Doctor of Oriental Medicine