Acupuncture has been a godsend in my struggle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) over the last 5 years.
July 2014, I had my bags packed and was ready for a year long adventure in Europe. I was studying for two semesters as part of my graduate work at universities in both Germany and France. I lovingly said my last goodbyes to my Mother and Grandmother at the airport and excitedly headed to Paris to study French for a month before I started my studies.
Unfortunately, a few days after my arrival I came down with an infection and a high fever that utterly knocked me out. This was not a normal little sickness; I lost ability to think clearly and I was melded to my bed. I was so exhausted it took me hours to get dressed. Finally, I made it all by my little ownself to a doctor who diagnosed me with Strep Throat.
CFS syndrome is often related to fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) and often coupled with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). Symptoms of CFS/ME are “profound fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, sleep abnormalities, autonomic manifestations, pain, and other symptoms that are made worse by exertion of any sort” (Clayton, 2015). An estimated 836,000 and 2.5 million Americans are affected by the syndrome, with women being diagnosed more than men, and many suffering for years never able to fully recover to their previous health and functioning levels. On top of this depressing forecast, the medical field has yet to fully delineate the causes and legitimate treatments.
For years many large medical organizations have recommended psychotherapy and exercise though these treatments were never validated with data (Matthees, 2015). In fact, for CFS/ME exercise can cause more physically harm to an already weak body. Fortunately, while very little is known about CFS, acupuncture helped me in two specific ways, improving my sleep quality and balancing my hormones.
One might think that those with CFS would simply sleep a lot, rather as mentioned above, they often suffer with sleep abnormalities. At my worst I was sleeping only 5 hours per day for about a month. I could not get myself to sleep more during the night and could not fall asleep for a nap during the day. Then I went to acupuncture and with just one session of acupuncture I experienced significant improvement in my sleep! Research indicates that sleep quality significantly improves after 5 weeks of individual acupuncture treatment (Phillips & Skelton, 2001) and as we know sleep is important for everyone not just those who struggle with CFS.
About two years into my struggle with CFS, I was informed by a practitioner that I may have Adrenal Fatigue. At the basic level I was told that if one hormone is off it can have a cascading effect giving me a general hormone imbalance. Over several acupuncture appointments, I felt a general stabilization and less anxiety from the Adrenal Fatigue. Again, this effect was helpful in reducing my CFS symptoms, however it is also extremely useful for anyone experiencing hormone imbalance.
I personally have yet to experience full recovery from my symptoms, but I believe I will. Staying away from gluten and EMFs has also been useful, though I will continue to seek acupuncture because of the incredible research findings. While acupuncture helped me specifically with both sleep quality and hormone balancing, it has generally been found to have an overall effect in decreasing CFS symptoms in 10 out of 11 trials that were reviewed (Porter et al., 2010). Anther study found a significantly higher improvement in physical and mental fatigue in CFS patients compared to a control group, therein concluding that acupuncture was an “effective treatment for CFS” (Yiu, 2007, pp. 630). Additionally, acupuncture has largely been found to be effective along with moxibustion across a number of studies (Wang et al., 2008) and specifically electrical acupuncture has been shown to have an anti-fatigue effect (Yuemei, 2006).
My greatest encouragement to those suffering from CFS. This is a very hard journey, but it is one I am confident we will conquer.
Clayton, E. W. (2015). Beyond myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome: an IOM report on redefining an illness. Jama, 313(11), 1101-1102.
Phillips, K. D., & Skelton, W. D. (2001). Effects of individualized acupuncture on sleep quality in HIV disease. Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 12(1), 27-39.
Porter, N. S., Jason, L. A., Boulton, A., Bothne, N., & Coleman, B. (2010). Alternative medical interventions used in the treatment and management of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. The Journal of Alternative and complementary medicine, 16(3), 235-249.
Wang, T., Zhang, Q., Xue, X., & Yeung, A. (2008). A systematic review of acupuncture and moxibustion treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome in China. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 36(01), 1-24.
Yiu, Y. M., Ng, S. M., Tsui, Y. L., & Chan, Y. L. (2007). A clinical trial of acupuncture for treating chronic fatigue syndrome in Hong Kong. 中西醫結合學報.
Yuemei, L., Hongping, L., Shulan, F. E. N. G., & Dongfang, G. O. N. G. (2006). The therapeutic effects of electrical acupuncture and auricular-plaster in 32 cases of chronic fatigue syndrome. Journal of traditional Chinese medicine= Chung i tsa chih ying wen pan, 26(3), 163-164.
Matthees, A. (2015). Treatment of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. Annals of internal medicine, 163(11), 886-887.