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Beat Wintertime Fatigue with Traditional Chinese Medicine!

Well, it’s happened again… winter is just about here – the days are short, the air is cold, and we have to resist the urge to just curl up and hibernate for a few months.  Energy levels are low – we become more reliant on naps (if we can fit them in!), caffeine, and sugar to help us get through the day.  If you are finding fatigue setting in, read on and see how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) explains fatigue and how acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help!  

Fatigue is a complicated symptom with varied causes and treatments.  The goal of TCM is to diagnose and treat each person as an individual, addressing how fatigue has resulted from his or her unique imbalances and constitutional type.  In other words, the first step we take to help our patients overcome fatigue is to find out why they are tired.  

In TCM, the causes of fatigue fall into two general categories:  a deficiency of Qi or a deficiency of Yang.  Qi and Yang are two forms of the body’s vital life force energy – they are responsible for metabolism, movement, activity, and energy level.  Qi and Yang tend to be lowest in the environment and in our bodies in the wintertime.  In addition to the relative low levels of Qi and Yang in the winter, they can be further depleted by over-work, over-exercise, over-thinking (or worrying), over-holiday shopping (yes!), aging, unhealthy eating, enduring illness, or side effects of medication.  

The deficiencies in Qi and Yang that cause fatigue show up in different acupuncture meridians.  The key to successful treatment of fatigue is first determining what is deficient – Qi or Yang (or both), and then determining where in the body (or in what acupuncture organ systems and meridians) these deficiencies exist.  Acupuncture points and herbal formulas are prescribed to strengthen and boost the Qi and Yang in these specific areas to reestablish healthy energy levels throughout the body.  

Qi deficiency causing fatigue can come from the Spleen, Kidney, or Lung meridian. Spleen Qi Deficiency is the most commonly seen cause of fatigue.  The Chinese Spleen is responsible for deriving energy from food.  It separates “clear essence” which becomes energy from “turbid waste” which is excreted.  Spleen Qi can be depleted by the causes mentioned above (especially improper diet and over-thinking).  When Spleen Qi is weakened, energy level drops and other symptoms appear, like poor appetite, bloating, and gas.   The Spleen is also responsible for movement and transformation of fluids throughout the body.  When the Qi is not functioning efficiently, water will accumulate and “dampness” will build up in the body – leading to symptoms such as a feeling of heaviness, loose stools, achy joints, and even more pronounced feeling of fatigue.  

In TCM theory, Kidney organ system is said to be the source of prenatal Qi, or the energy inherited from the parents.  If Kidney Qi is deficient, fatigue is more extreme than that seen in Spleen Qi deficiency.  There may also be lack of strength, dizziness, ringing in the ears, pain or weakness in the low back and/or knees, frequent urination, night urination, and possible edema in the ankles and lower legs.  

The TCM Lung organ system derives energy from the air we breathe.  When LungQi is deficient, symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, spontaneous sweating, a weak voice, weakened immunity, and possibly an enduring weak cough. 

The Yang energy of the body represents activity and warmth.  One of the hallmark symptoms of deficient yang is a feeling of coldness and profound fatigue (more severe than that seen with Qi deficiency).  Fatigue from yang deficiency can be due to imbalances in the Kidney, Spleen, and/or Heart organ systems.  

KidneyYang deficiency can lead to symptoms including severe fatigue and lethargy, low back pain or knee pain, frequent urination, feeling cold, and diminished libido.  There may also be dizziness and vertigo or tinnitus (ear ringing).  

SpleenYang deficiency affects energy levels and digestion causing fatigue, dull abdominal pain that feels better with warmth and pressure, loose stools, and/or diarrhea, and excessive clear urination.   

HeartYang deficiency symptoms include spontaneous sweating, chest oppression (a feeling of heaviness in the chest), palpitations, and agitation or anxiety together with the symptoms of Kidney yang deficiency.  

If a patient comes to us with a complaint of fatigue, we conduct a comprehensive intake looking for the symptoms mentioned above.  Sometimes, Qi alone is affected, sometimes both Qi and Yang are affected; likewise, sometimes only one organ system is deficient, and other times, multiple systems show signs of depletion.

Once we determine the cause or causes of fatigue in each patient, we choose acupuncture points and Chinese herbs to build Qi and/or Yang, drain dampness (if necessary), and move Qi (since stagnant Qi can also be a cause of tiredness and a feeling of being “stuck”).  

We believe a multi-faceted approach is best for achieving and maintaining treatment goals. So, in addition to acupuncture and herbs, we also like to recommend foods that help build Qi and Yang, exercises that can strengthen energy and not exacerbate the deficiency, and “take home” acupressure techniques that can be used during the day to address that mid afternoon slump.

Contact us at 781-898-4083 if you’d like to learn more about how to lift your energy level through another long, dark, cold New England winter!

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