Acupuncture and Fatigue

Have you been blaming your feeling of general tiredness, lethargy and/or fatigue on the change of seasons? Fatigue is defined as a “state of physical or mental exhaustion, lack of energy or strength.” Some causes of persistent fatigue are insomnia, diet anemia, hypothyroidism, depression, chronic disease (diabetes, asthma), drugs, food allergies, fibromyalgia, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

It’s important to see your primary physician because sometimes additional tests are necessary to confirm or rule out some of the fore mentioned diseases as a cause of the fatigue. Less than 10% of fatigue cases are caused by coexisting physical conditions. The causes of the 90% remain unknown to the medicine.

In Chinese medicine fatigue can be associated with a deficiency syndrome‐‐we are just lacking energy or blood and our body cannot perform at its best. There are four different body substances that can be deficient: energy (called qi – pronounced chee), blood, yin and yang. They have different etiology and are accompanied by different symptoms.

Qi deficiency can be caused by inappropriate diet, chronic diseases or stress. It is the state that we often describe as being burned out.

Fatigue associated with blood deficiency is most often experienced by women after menstrual bleeding. Blood is a carrier of oxygen and nutrition and its deficiency causes tiredness, dizziness, memory loss, dry skin, and palpitations.

Yang deficiency presents very similar to hypothyroidism where as Yin deficiency is the common cause of fatigue in menopausal women. Often it is accompanied by hot flashes, back pain, insomnia and irritability. These four problems require different approaches and different herbs and acupuncture points are used.

Acupuncture balances energy in the body. Selection of the points used during the treatment depends on the diagnosis, specifically, diagnosis according to Chinese medicine. During the session we address the main cause of the problem, but we also use points to treat underlying problems. Two patients with fatigue will most likely receive two different treatments. Specific points are added to regulate digestive tract ‐ even if there are no symptoms of digestive problems. If the digestion and absorption are poor, patients cannot make progress. Mental exhaustion is another problem that we need to address and acupuncture is a very fast remedy. Very often patients feel the difference after a single treatment. During the acupuncture session, the human brain releases a variety of neurotransmitters which helps to balance brain chemistry.

Tonic herbs and acupuncture are the main therapeutic methods, but there are lifestyle changes that can be made regardless of what type of deficiency the patient is struggling with:

  1. Regular meals cannot be stressed enough. I am not going to talk about the food and specific products but about how we eat. Our body constantly uses energy and building blocks and we need to deliver them on the daily basis. First and most important is to not skip the meals. Three meals a day is a minimum for a healthy adult. If you already are deficient, it is a good chance that your GI tract cannot absorb all the nutrients. It is easier to digest and absorb if the portions are smaller and delivered more often.
  2. Refrain from engaging in other activities while eating. This includes discussion, studying, reading or walking while eating. When we are active, blood moves to the muscles or brain (mental activity). Digestion and absorption requires increased blood flow through the intestines and, if there isn’t enough blood, the entire process is impacted.
  3. For some patients we recommend a specific diet of eliminating what’s not healthy and increasing amounts of favorable foods.
  4. It is crucial to get a good, night’s sleep. People who work night shifts have problems with maintaining their energy level. Our bodies regenerate during sleep. Blood gets detoxified, energy gets re‐stored and the brain gets rest. The best quality sleep happens to be before midnight. Plan to go to bed early (between 10‐11) and see how it influences your energy level the next day. If you suffer from insomnia, you need to address this problem first.
  5. Physical activity is the best therapy or medicine. It cannot be overstated or overestimated. Exercising helps with circulation, digestion, bone density, and brain activity which impacts mood, concentration and memory. It not only improves quality of life but also is able to prolong it. Find the activity you enjoy be it yoga, biking, walking, swimming, weight lifting, or running and “just do it”. It is good for you. A combination of lifestyle changed in combination with acupuncture can help to relieve your symptoms of fatigue and get you to a healthier and more energized you. Most importantly, enjoy the journey as your travel on the path to a healthier and happier you.

originally published in the paper version of the “Berthoud Surveyor”

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