All You Need To Know About The TCM Approach to ME

ME Awareness Week, 11 -17th May, 2016 will focus once again on this debilitating and often misunderstood illness with events to raise awareness both nationally and internationally. In the meantime I shall discuss how ME can be treated holistically, the TCM way.

My Experience

I have been treating ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with Acupuncture including Chinese herbal medicine, cupping and moxa for some time now. In recent years I’ve seen more young people coming to my practice with a wide range of symptoms, including intense tiredness, aches and pains, and lack of concentration for performing everyday tasks easily. Symptoms come and go, and vary from person to person. Interestingly, some research has indicated that 77% of CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) sufferers have turned to complementary medicine instead of, or in conjunction with, Western medicine.

The Symptoms

ME is classified by the World Health Organisation as a ‘disease of the central nervous system’. From a western point of view there is no identifiable cause and the most common diagnose is an auto-immune condition. Other causes may include: genetic factors, brain abnormalities, a hyper-reactive immune system, viral or other infectious agents.

ME is far more than tiredness, it can affect every aspect of your life. Tiredness is one of the more noticeable symptoms and many think it’s simply down to stress, inappropriate diet or even anemia. A lot of my patients mention muscle weakness – the slightest exercise can make them stay in bed all day. Their memory is weak and that is an alarming symptom for them. They feel depressed and unable to shift this lack of energy. Despite this weakness their sleep is not restful and they feel feverish at night.

Long lasting symptoms encourage them to investigate further – discovering their symptoms may originate from an impaired immune system.

Stress can make symptoms worse: Stress is a modern disease that interferes with our immune system and the way we feel – it is one of the first issues that needs to be addressed. It can compromise the immunity and may be an underlying cause of ME initially. Stress overworks the adrenal glands – the glands that specifically deal with all survival responses in relation to any form of stress. Prolonged stress can lead to adrenal exhaustion technically called Chronic Fatigue.

It’s Not All In Your Head

I view Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as a disorder of mind and body, not one or the other. People with ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are often overworked, overstressed or have underlying depression. Chronic stress and depression may be key elements in a sequence of events that leads to becoming ill. A promising psychotherapeutic approach such as CBT (Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy) could be beneficial. It may not be a cure, but it can help — sometimes substantially. Cognitive-behaviour therapy has been recently used in other chronic illnesses like multiple sclerosis and lupus, with the result of reduced fatigue, pain and stress. MS as well as many other diseases of the body originate from the mind and manifest in a physical level one way or the other.

The Diagnosis

According to Chinese medicine, diagnosis is usually mainly focused on Kidney weakness and Liver deficiency, or even digestive problems such as allergies, which may cause some deficiencies, stagnation and heat or cold symptoms.

Common Chinese diagnoses include:

Kidney yang/Qi deficiency symptoms: day or night sweating; dislike of cold; weak back; no or irregular menstrual periods, light tongue colour or an enlarged tongue.
Liver Blood deficiency symptoms: headache; joint pain; numbness of the four limbs; blurring vision, light period (by quantity or colour); light tongue colour and weak pulse.

Chinese Medicine practitioners suggest that the immune system can be improved by initially working on the way the body produces energy from food and mainly protein.

The immune system and the body’s production of energy are closely related. For example, in the case of CFS, the immune system may be using as much as 60 percent of the body’s energy storage, which manufactures proteins to make immune antibodies. In other words, the body is deprived of the energy because your immune system is using all the energy to produce antibodies. The result? Constant tiredness.


My Advice

Increase energy levels by allowing the body to use resources from food. Eat breakfast as soon as you wake up. It is important to have high protein meals for breakfast along with some complex carbs and good fats. Free-range eggs, poultry, even meat and omega-3 rich fish such as salmon and sardines can give an energy boost quick. Meat or eggs must be organic if possible, so they do not do more harm than good.

For vegetarians or vegans, a good source of rice protein powder with some coconut milk/cream is much better than any wheat-free organic muesli for breakfast as it boosts energy levels for the day.

Regulate the energy of the body and strengthen deficient Organs, using acupuncture points that relate to autoimmunity and Organ nourishing points, in combination with Chinese herbs (see ‘Effective Management’).

The Treatment

Massage therapy and acupuncture, in particular, can address many of the problems associated with ME/CFS, such as body aches, insomnia, and stress levels. Auricular acupuncture (acupuncture of the ear) has been known to be especially effective in anxiety and stress treatment, and shiatsu body work can relax muscles, reduce stress, and improve sleep patterns.

Supplemental oxygen acupuncture usually works very well to alleviate inflammatory complications and boost energy levels. The use of acupuncture regulates and relaxes the body and the induction of inhalable oxygen simultaneously is an effective way to allow better absorption of oxygen into the lungs and further more throughout the body. Contact the Clinic as I’ve just started to introduce this treatment.

Effective Management

Adaptogenic supplementation is superior to any other –as these particular herbs do not just treat one thing or just the symptoms, but affect all different aspects of human functions and systems. Adaptogens are herbs that treat symptoms of both acute and chronic fatigue and stress by increasing the body’s ability to resist stress and exerting a balancing effect on the body.

A supplement that combines different herbal adaptogens such as Rhodiola rosea, Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Panax Ginseng, Schisandra chinensis, Withania somnifera (Ashwaghanda), and Astragalus membranaceus, helps to re-balance and re-regulate the body’s primary stress response systems, especially the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), which is impaired in those with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.


A lot of studies suggest that the effects of Rhodiola on fatigue are very positive, showing statistically significant reductions in fatigue and clinical improvements in many fatigue-related conditions, such as physical fitness, concentration, mental performance, sleep patterns, motivation, mood, and general wellbeing. Various dosages and preparations have been found to be effective, from daily totals of 100 mg up to 576 mg in divided doses for periods of one to 10 weeks.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

A lot of people suffer from tiredness and symptoms similar to ME without necessarily having the actual disease. Follow these tips to set you on a path to better wellbeing. If symptoms do not improve, think about having a blood test to investigate further.

Start with better nutrition: Eliminate allergens such as wheat and gluten that compromise the immune system creating allergies and malnutrition.

Exercise to scatter stagnant energy: This will improve any tiredness and is a psychological boost as well.

Take adrenal support supplements and a good multivitamin: A good first step to addressing general weakness.

For more information, contact Dr John Tsagaris,