Traditional Chinese Medicine for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Chinese herbs for liver stagnation include peonia root and magnolia bark

It is only in the last 10 years that Western medicine practitioners in North America and the UK have given recognition to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) – also known as myalgic encephalo-myelitis (ME) and postviral fatigue syndrome (PVFS). In the U.S. 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 causative. 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 not necessarily the case; CFS can occur with no previous or obvious illness preceding it.

Physical Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome:

  • Debilitating fatigue lasting six months or more – it does not originate from exertion, and is not relieved by rest.
  • Sore throat
  • Persistent low-grade fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Weak and aching muscles
  • Headache
  • Joint pain

Psychological Symptoms for CFS Include:

  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Impaired memory or concentration
  • Appetite loss or gain
  • Need for excessive sleep

These symptoms can 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.

TCM Approach to Treating Chronic Fatigue

In my view, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a problem better treated by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) than by Western medicine. TCM practitioners believe that qi deficiency (low energy) may trigger CFS, and low energy is in turn caused by energy stagnation. Further, its cause may come from internal injury (which I describe as “emotional distress”), from the seven emotions, or from an unhealthy lifestyle. I use acupuncture and Chinese herbs to treat this disease, with some success. There is, however, no standard formula.

The formulas listed below are primarily for use by 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 of 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. This is incorrect because if the wrong formula is applied to the wrong situation, it will affect the disease and may even damage the patient’s health.

Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, the sufferers 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; menstrual period disorder; ringing in the ears; abnormal tongue color; fine, hollow and rapid pulse. Herbs for this deficiency are based on the Six Taste Formula –  ingredients include Rhemania Root, Cornus Frui, Dioscorea Rhizome, Alisma Rhizome, Paeonia Root, Poria Fungus. 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 menstrual period, even a limited one; light tongue color or an enlarged tongue. The herbal 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, Aconite Carmichaeli Debx. This formula can also be used for a patient suffering from ACTH insufficiency, but without organic damage at the adrenal gland. The acupuncture point is the same as above, plus  the Mingmen life door. No needles are used, just moxibustion.

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 the one 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; blurred vision, light period (by quantity or color); light tongue color; hollow pulse. Herbs used here are based on 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, Ligusticum wallichii franch, Rehmania glutinosa (Gaertn.), Paeoniae Lactiflorae, Radix. 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 color; thin tongue coating; hollow pulse. Here we would use Four Gentlemen Formula, which contains Radix Ginseng, Poria cocos (Schw.) Wolf, Atractylodes macrocephala koidz, Radix Glycyrrhizae (Licorice root). The acupuncture points are Yinlingquan spleen 9X2 needles, and Taichong liver 3X2 needles, using the tonification method.

6) LIVER STAGNATION – symptoms include irritability; frustration; quick to anger; heavy menstrual period; dull tongue color; a wiry or tight pulse. Liver stagnation requires the Smooth Liver Formula. Its ingredients are: Paeonia Root, Amomum Fruit, Cardamon Fruit, Corydalis Rhizome, Citrus Peel, Saussurea Root, Magnolia Bark. The acupuncture point is Xingjian liver 2X2 needles, using the tonification method.

The Big Picture

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

Think of the big picture, and differentiate between essential and non-essential things to be accomplished. Then release the non-essentials. Achievement cannot be rushed; go forward with stable, steady steps as excessive stress can create imbalances that lead to health problems. Seek simplicity within a balanced lifestyle.

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


Tom Fung is a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and Acupuncturist in Markham, Ont. He received a diploma of modern Chinese medicine and Acupuncture in 1975. He established the Tom Fung Holistic Acupuncture Clinic in Toronto in 1979. He graduated as doctor of internal Chinese medicine, and received an Acupuncture certificate in Xiamen China University in 1985. Office: 179 Main St. N., Markham, ON. For information or appointment, email:, call: (905) 554-8849, or visit:

Write a Comment

view all comments