What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition of incapacitating fatigue that may last for several months to several years. During this time the person may be completely bed-ridden, finding even the smallest task to be totally exhausting. The main symptoms that accompany this are a sore throat, aching muscle, reduced mental dexterity with poor concentration and memory loss. There may also be mood swings such as irritability and depression. Often sensitivities to certain foods will develop, along with reduced tolerance to common environmental pollutants such as tobacco smoke, and car exhaust fumes.
The cause of CFS is not known. The syndrome is believed to result from an abnormal response to a virus or some other trigger factor. Often it is preceded by a viral infection such as glandular fever or hepatitis. Although it is recognised that there is a deficiency in the immune system, western medicine is currently unable to offer a satisfactory treatment, apart from analgesics, anti-depressants and sedatives to relieve some of the symptoms.
Perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) this syndrome is regarded as a deficiency' type of illness. This signifies that there is reduced energy available to maintain normal functioning of the internal organs and also that insufficient amounts of certain bodily tissues and substances are being produced. In the majority of cases there is a deficiency of Qi (vital energy) and Yin; together with the stagnation of free circulation of the Qi. Deficiency of the Qi is characterised by fatigue, weakness, poor appetite and digestion, shortage of breath, a weak and low voice, and excessive sweating. The lungs, stomach and spleen, which are the organs concerned with the production of the body's energy, are functioning at a reduced level.
Yin deficiency gives rise to emaciation, dizziness, flushing, a hot sensations in the palms, soles and centre of the chest, a dry mouth, dry throat, and night-sweats. In this connection, the 'Yin' is a general term for all the nourishing fluids in the body It also denotes the capacity of the body to 'hold' its nourishment in the form of bodily tissues. This is in contrast to the 'Yang', which refers to the functional activity of the organs and tissues, When Yin is insufficient, symptoms appear due to the lack of fluids and tissue substance. There will also be signs of Yang hyperactivity because of a lack of the counterbalancing effect of the Yin. This will give rise to sensations of heat, irritability, insomnia and sweating at night.
When the Qi doesn't flow smoothly and evenly through the body, the liver, muscles, emotions and digestion will be affected. There will be pains with a sensation of swelling below the ribs (in the region of the liver), muscular aches, irritability, depression, disturbed appetite and poor digestion. 1CM treatment is directed at restoring the normal circulation of the Qi, building up the level of Qi, nourishing and supporting the Yin, and subduing the hyperactivity of the Yang. Acupuncture is used along with Chinese herbal medicine. The acupuncture is effective in restoring the normal circulation of the Qi and reducing the hyperactive Yang, while the herbal medicines are able to build up the Qi and Yin. Treatment should be continued for several months along with changes to the diet and lifestyle.
Typical Herbal medicines
The primary herbal medicines are raw herbal mixtures, which are prescribed after a consultation. It is also possible to purchase ready made remedies over the counter such as: Dong Chong Xia Cao, Li Zhi, Gingseng, etc.
Some of the important lifestyle changes that will assist in the recovery from CFS are shown as the following:
- Avoid any known allergens. This is mostly done by trial and error over several months. Every substance in the diet and environment should be considered;
- The diet should be easily digestible and nourishing Stress should be reduced or avoided;
- Adequate rest should be taken. However, bed rest should be restricted to that required for sleep as too much will only lead to further weakness and muscle wasting;
- Take more time outdoors in the fresh air. Follow a gentle, graded exercise program such as walking, qi gong, tai chi, yoga and swimming. The exercise should be started from short period and then slowly increased to longer period as the strength returns.