Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a complex pattern of symptoms, including fatigue, depression, fibromyalgia, chemical sensitivity, headache, “brain fog,” poor memory, changes in appetite, and sleep disturbances.
Regardless of Western medical terminology, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) characterizes all illnesses as imbalances of organ function or poor circulation of qi (pronounced chi), or energy, and blood in the body’s channels. In chronic cases with many diverse symptoms, we try to ascertain how, where, and why organ and channel dysfunctions are happening, and we work to restore an original, natural state of health with a combination of Chinese herbal medicines and acupuncture.
I believe the true source of CFS is one or more pathogenic microbes, including viruses, bacteria, or protozoa that enter the body during an acute illness that often resembles the flu. The pathogenic microbes can damage a cell’s mitochondria (the cell’s energy factories), leading to profound fatigue. In the case of viruses, the pathogen can disturb DNA replication, leading to the chronic nature of the illness.
In addition to direct microbial invasion, many practitioners in the natural healing arts believe CFS can result from “leaky gut syndrome,” or small-intestine colitis. Leaky gut syndrome usually manifests after one consumes antibiotics, either as medicines or in animal foods. By inadvertently killing the thousands of beneficial and protective intestinal bacteria, the antibiotics allow harmful fungi, such as Candida albicans, or pathogenic bacteria to proliferate. These can then irritate and inflame the internal lining of the small intestine and allow absorption of foods into the blood before they’re fully digested. The body’s immune system will see these as allergens and attack them.
In the end, the intestines’ permeability disintegrates, and microbial and chemical toxins are absorbed into the blood, overwhelming the immune system as well as the liver’s ability to detoxify. Some chemicals stay in the blood, affecting brain function. Others precipitate into the connective tissue surrounding muscles, causing fibromyalgia.
The key treatments in Chinese medicine focus on regulating and detoxifying the liver and repairing small-intestine inflammation and permeability. This requires specific herbs to move liver qi and blood and to cool any inflammatory heat. As the liver regains its ability to detoxify, poisons exit the body. The symptoms of headache, fibromyalgia, and fatigue gradually disappear. Chinese medicine and acupuncture can be quite effective, especially if the intervention occurs early on in the condition. This holds especially true when an active viral irritant is present, because TCM is quite effective in combating viral illnesses.
Detoxifying the liver can be done with a variety of Chinese herbal formulas, including Chai Hu Shu Gan Wan, Xiao Chai Hu Tang (Minor Bupleurum Formula), or Xiao Yao San (Free and Easy Wanderer). Repairing the small intestine epithelium requires spleen qi tonics such as Liu Wei Di Huang Wan (Rehmannia 6) or Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang and special formulas that reduce small-intestine inflammation. Of course, treatment of complex syndromes such as leaky gut or chronic fatigue should be managed by an experienced practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine. Such practitioners will be nationally board certified in Chinese herbology.
It is worth mentioning that in both Canada and Europe, some CFS patients have shown significant improvement with treatments of intravenous hydrogen peroxide, which can attack underlying and deeply stored microbial infections.
By Jake Paul Fratkin, OMD, LAc