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Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

by Tom Fung, R.Ac., R.TCMP RSS, Pat Young RSS

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It is only in the last six years that western medicine practitioners in the United Kingdom have given recognition to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) — also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and postviral fatigue syndrome (PVFS). In the United States and Canada, many allopathic medicine practitioners feel the cause for this syndrome is not clear. They implicate chronic stress, viruses, allergies, and hormonal imbalances as cause. Further, this condition is easily confused with AIDS, mononucleosis, and other ailments.

In the search for a specific cause of CFS, many western practitioners believed it to be a legacy of viral infections. Hence, PVFS. However, this is simply not the case; CFS can occur with no previous or obvious illness preceding it.

Physical symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are:
• Debilitating fatigue that lasts for six months or more. This fatigue does not originate from exertion, and is not relieved by rest.
• Persistent low-grade fever
• Weak and aching muscles
• Swollen lymph nodes
• Joint pain
• Headache
• Sore throat

The psychological symptoms for CFS include:
• Confusion
• Depression
• Impaired memory or concentration
• Need for excessive sleep
• Appetite loss or gain
• Agitation

Frequently these symptoms worsen with the slightest exertion. Further, it is important to differentiate CFS from the persistent fatigue that is felt by 20-50 percent of the population, in association with an unbalanced lifestyle or stress.


Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a problem better treated by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) than by either allopathic or holistic practitioners. TCM practitioners believe that qi deficiency (low energy) may trigger CFS, while low energy can be caused by energy stagnation. Further, its cause may come from internal injury (which I describe as “emotional distress),  from the seven emotions, or an unhealthy lifestyle. I use acupuncture and Chinese herbs to treat this disease, and with some success. There is, however, no standard formula. The formulas listed below are primarily for the use of Chinese herbal doctors, or someone with experience in using the formulas, because the symptoms can change and each individual’s condition is different. We need to accommodate the symptoms and each person we treat. Sometimes the dosage can be heavy, sometimes light. It is not a simple process. There are also some people who think all herbs are natural and have no side effects, which is a mistake, because if the wrong formula is applied to the wrong situation, it will affect the disease and may even damage the patient’s health.

In TCM, the victims of CFS present the following imbalances, individually or in combination. For example, kidney yin deficiency can also combine with spleen deficiency.

1. Kidney yin deficiency symptoms include: night sweats; thinning hair or hair loss; sore back; period disorder; ringing in the ear; tongue colour; fine, hollow and rapid pulse. The formula for this deficiency is based on the Six Taste Formula  —  ingredients include Rehmania Root 28%, Cornus Fruit 14%, Dioscorea Rhizome 14%, Alisma Rhizome 10%, Paeonia Root 10%, Poria Fungus 10%. The acupuncture point is Taixi stream point kidney 3X2 needles with both sides, using the tonification method.

2. Kidney yang deficiency symptoms include: day sweats or automatic sweating; dislike of cold; weak back; no period, even a limited one; light tongue colour or an enlarged tongue. The formula for kidney yang deficiency is Gold Cabinet Kidney Qui, and its ingredients are based on the Six Taste formula with two extra herbs — Cinnamon Bark 3.7%, Aconite Carmichaeli Debx 3.7%. This formula can also be used for a patient suffering from ACTH insufficiency, but who does not have organic damage at the adrenal gland. The acupuncture point is the same as above plus Mingmen life door. No needles are used, just moxibustion with moxa rolls.

3. Lung yin deficiency symptoms include: dry cough; sore throat; afternoon fever; tongue and pulse symptoms similar to kidney yin deficiency. When the disease progresses, it will lead into kidney yin deficiency.

The formula for lung yin deficiency is also based on the Six Taste Formula with three extra herbs: Ningpo Figwort Root 5%, Fritillaria Cirrhosa D.Don 8 and Baical Skullcap Root 5%. The acupuncture point is the same as used in kidney yang deficiency, plus Xiabai lung 4X2 needles, using the tonification method.

4. Liver deficiency symptoms include: headache; joint pain; numbness of the four limbs; blurring vision, light period (by quantity or colour); light tongue colour;  hollow pulse. The formula here is the Four Object Formula. I use this formula because it is the yin organ which stores two-thirds of the body’s blood. Whenever there is a blood deficiency, we can use this formula. Its ingredients are: Angelica sinensis (Oliv.) Diels 30%, Ligusticum wallichii franch 20%, Rehmania glutinosa (Gaertn.) 30%, Paeoniae Lactiflorae, Radix 20%. The acupuncture points are Taichong liver 3X2 needles, and Sanyinjiao (3 negative joint), spleen 6X2 needles, using the tonification method.

5. Spleen deficiency symptoms include: lack of appetite; stomach fullness; fatigue; perhaps a swollen face; light or white tongue colour; thin tongue coating; hollow pulse.

Here we would use Four Gentlemen Formula, which contains Radix Ginseng 30%, Poria cocos (Schw.) Wolf 20%, Atractylodes macrocephala koidz. 30%, Radix Glycyrrhizae (Licorice root) 20%. The acupuncture points are Yinlingquan spleen 9X2 needles, and Taichong liver 3X2 needles, using the tonification method.

6. Liver stagnation symptoms include: irritability; frustration; ready anger; heavy period; dull tongue colour; a wiry or tight pulse. Liver stagnation requires the Smooth Liver Formula. Its ingredients are: Paeonia Root 20%, Amomum Fruit 15%, Cardamon Fruit 15%, Corydalis Rhizome 14%, Citrus Peel 12%, Saussurea Root 12%, Magnolia Bark 13%. The acupuncture point is Xingjian liver 2X2 needles, using the tonification method.


Our modern, industrialized and commercialized society creates great mental pressure with little or no physical movement. It is up to each one of us to live life based on holistic concepts.

Think of the big picture, and differentiate between essential things to be accomplished and release the non-essentials.  Go forward with stable, steady steps — achievement cannot be rushed, while excessive stress can create imbalances leading to health problems. Seek simplicity within a balanced lifestyle.

As an individual does well, more people will become well, and then society as a whole will be well.


Article Tags: vitality, vitality magazine, chinese medicine, traditional chinese medicine, chronic fatigue syndrome, cfs

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Pat Young is a valued Vitality contributor.