Acupuncture Found Effective for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Researchers at the Beijing Chaoyang Fatou Community Health Service Center conducted a study comparing the effects of warm needling acupuncture, standard acupuncture, and sham acupuncture. [1] Based on the data, the researchers conclude that warm needling acupuncture is significantly more effective than using only standard acupuncture or sham acupuncture.

Three groups were compared. In one group, patients received sham acupuncture (a placebo control system used to simulate true acupuncture used in single-blinded and double-blinded trials). In the second group, patients received standard acupuncture as a means to control chronic fatigue syndrome. In the third group, standard acupuncture was combined with moxibustion therapy. The results demonstrate that sham acupuncture does not produce significant positive patient outcomes; however, standard acupuncture and warm needling acupuncture produce significant clinical results. The researchers note, “Acupuncture (and moxibustion) can be used as alternative and safe treatment protocols for chronic fatigue syndrome.”

About CFS Chronic fatigue syndrome is defined as an illness characterized by severe disabling fatigue lasting for at least six months that is worsened by minimal physical or mental exertion. In the sphere of biomedicine, no definitive etiology has been identified. There are no key features or typical symptoms, but a sore throat, depression, and myalgia may all be present. [2]

The biomedical etiology of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) remains unclear. However, it has been suggested that psychological and social factors, viral loads, and immune system dysfunction may contribute to the condition. Previous studies find that CFS may be associated with a bias towards a Th2 type of response in Th1/Th2 immune balances. [3] Acupuncture’s ability to balance Th1 and Th2 may be one mechanism responsible for its effective action in the treatment of CFS.

Th1 (T helper 1) and Th2 (T helper 2) cells are types of T cells that play important roles in the adaptive immune system. Th1 cells secrete IL-2, interferon-gamma (IFN-γ), and tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Th2 cells produce IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, and IL-13. [4] In a Th2 immune response, IL-4 production by T cells is predominant over IFN-γ. Researchers Wang et al. note, “Acupuncturing at bilateral GV20 (Baihui), CV4 (Guanyuan), and ST36 (Zusanli) could elevate the serum IFN-γ concentration and the ratio of IFN-γ/IL-4 and regulate Th1/Th2 immune balance.” [5] This finding indicates that acupuncture may be of benefit to CFS patients with T cell imbalances.

Findings The study involved 133 voluntary patients from the Beijing Chaoyang Fatou Community Health Service Center. All were diagnosed with CFS. Inclusion criteria were established based on the CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) criteria for CFS and included the following:

  • Experienced unexplained persistent or relapsing chronic fatigue for more than six months, which is not substantially alleviated by rest, and results in substantial reduction in previous levels of occupational, educational, social, or personal activities. [6]

In addition, the aforementioned is concurrent with four or more of the following symptoms:

  • Substantial impairment in short-term memory or concentration

  • Sore throat

  • Tender lymph nodes

  • Muscle pain

  • Multi-joint pain without swelling or redness

  • Headaches of a new type, pattern, or severity

  • Unrefreshing sleep

  • Post-exertional malaise lasting more than 24 hours

Chinese Medicine The researchers provided a Chinese medicine theoretical basis for the protocols used in this acupuncture continuing education research. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, CFS falls in the scope of deficiency taxation (Xu Lao), wilting pattern (Wei Zheng), depression disease (Yu Bing), and hundred-union disease (Bai Hu Bing). CFS presentations are categorized into several differential diagnostic patterns including spleen qi deficiency, kidney jing-essence deficiency, spleen and kidney yang deficiency, liver depression, and qi stagnation. The treatment principle is to supplement deficiencies, support upright qi (Zheng Qi), and restore the liver’s function to control the smooth flow of qi.

Acupoints were selected to achieve the therapeutic actions guided by the treatment principles. Baihui is located on the Governing Vessel (Du Mai). Administering acupuncture at this acupoint lifts yang, boosts qi, and revives the spirit mind (shen). Danzhong, Qihai, and Guanyuan are located on the Conception Vessel (Ren Mai). Needling Danzhong restores the free flow of qi and supplements ancestral qi (Zong Qi). Acupuncture at the other two acupoints supports upright qi (Zheng Qi) and benefits the kidneys. Zusanli combined with Sanyinjiao is often used in modern clinical settings to strengthen the spleen and stomach and to benefit qi and blood. Siguan (a combination of bilateral Hegu and Taichong) was applied to restore the liver’s function to control the smooth flow of qi and activate qi and blood circulation.

For all three groups, each point was pierced with a disposable 0.25 mm × 40 mm needle (Huatuo brand), adhering to standard needling depths. For Baihui and Danzhong, the needles were inserted transverse-obliquely towards the direction of meridian energy flow. For the remaining acupoints, the needles we