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5 Ways to Treat Fatigue with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Mar 28, 2014
By Seanna Sifflet LAc

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is all about balance–energy balance, in particular. And whether you visit a Western or an Eastern practitioner for fatigue, you’re likely to get the same advice: Incorporate more balance into your life. TCM will provide you with various tools for achieving balance. If you experience fatigue with no known medical reason, you might want to consider trying some TCM approaches that address the root causes of this pernicious condition, not just the symptoms.

TCM and the Body’s Energy System

Western medicine views the body as a set of cells that perform specific functions and disease as a problem with cellular function. TCM takes a different view of the human body, in which the body emerges as system of energy, called “qi” (pronounced “chee”). Qi runs through and around the body via paths called “meridians.” Generally speaking, qi consists of two main complementary energy forces: yin and yang.

  • Yin energy is slow and cold. Yin derives from quiet activities like resting, meditation, and deep breathing.
  • Yang energy is fast and hot. Yang energy comes from challenging physical and mental activities, such as exercise, concentrated effort, and external forces that cause stress.

According to TCM, fatigue can arise when the body’s energy flow becomes imbalanced, such as hyper-driving yang without nurturing yin. The goal of TCM is to restore or rebalance energy by treating the source of the problem in order to keep fatigue at bay for good. Here are five approaches:

1. Acupuncture

In this well-known TCM practice, an acupuncturist inserts thin needles into the skin at specific points in the body’s energy field. The purpose of acupuncture is to manipulate certain qi meridians. In the case of fatigue, acupuncture might be used to calm yang energy and stimulate yin energy. Acupuncture is said to be effective because it directly affects qi energy and therefore works the most rapidly.

2. Dietary Changes

Diet plays a key role in TCM, and in yin/yang energy specifically. In TCM, the stomach represents the center of the body’s qi movement. Thus, substances you put into your stomach can affect your qi. Regarding fatigue, TCM promotes abstaining from alcohol, reducing sugar intake, and consuming fewer cold or processed foods, as these can all cause tiredness. To help replenish yin energy and combat fatigue, eat and drink warm, nourishing foods and beverages.

Read 10 Healthy Eating Tips from Our Nutritionist.

3. Herbal Support

Most medications began as plant teas, poultices, and pills. Only in the modern era have scientists been able to work directly with chemical compounds to create what we know today as drugs. TCM uses a variety of traditional herbal supplements to help reduce fatigue and increase energy. Herbs such as ginseng root or sweet wormwood may aid in fatigue treatment. You should consult a TCM practitioner before using herbs because some of them can interact with prescription medications.

4. Qigong Practices

Tai chi is just one of the many forms of qigong that’s popular today. Qigong represents a variety of practices that enhance yin energy. Qigong practices aim to align fluid movement with mindful breathing and meditation. In concert, these activities help balance qi energy to help restore energy and reduce fatigue. Your TCM practitioner can help you locate qigong resources, such as tai chi classes, or may teach you some basic qigong movements you can perform at home. Engaging in qigong daily may help you feel more relaxed and energized.

5. Rest

Yes, it’s really that simple. You need to prioritize rest in order to cultivate yin energy. TCM takes this concept a step further by advocating you engage in mindful (or aware) restfulness each day. This practice may take the form of meditation, quiet reading, or even just sitting still outdoors to enjoy nature. Given one of the drivers of modern American fatigue is lack of sleep, you may be relieved to hear your TCM practitioner give you a “prescription” to slow down and devote time to resting each day.

TCM to Treat the Source of Fatigue

Unfortunately, neither Western medicine nor TCM yet possesses a magic bullet to cure fatigue, except where there is a clearly identifiable cause, such as anemia or hypothyroidism. In fact, there’s no randomized, double-blind controlled study that confirms the efficacy of any specific treatment for fatigue. Perhaps that’s why many people look to complementary therapies for help with this vexing problem.

TCM aims to treat the source of fatigue, not merely the symptoms of it. Anyone can consume an extra cup of coffee or (worse yet) gulp down energy drinks each day. Not only will that approach not solve your fatigue issues, over the long run, it will make them worse. Approaches like acupuncture, mindfulness, dietary changes, and qigong practices, on the other hand, may put your fatigue to rest for good.

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Seanna Sifflet LAc

Seanna explores the connections between the health of the mind, body and spirit, using acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to activate her patients' natural healing processes and increase their quality of life. She puts patients at ease with her lighthearted manner, and helps restore a sense of normalcy for patients who feel out-of-balance. After earning her master's in social work, Seanna spent several years as a medical social worker at St. Luke's Hospital in New York before going on to receive her master's in traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture from the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. She gained extensive experience by practicing at her own private acupuncture clinic. She is certified through the NCCAOM.

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.

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