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

Acupuncture Patients were randomly divided into three groups: warm needling acupuncture group (n=44), acupuncture group (n=47), sham control group (n=42). For the warm needling acupuncture group, the average age of participants was 33.9 years. There were 20 males and 24 females. For the acupuncture group, the average age was 34.2 years (21 males and 26 females). For the sham control group, the average age of participants was 35.1 years (19 males and 23 females). Acupuncture plus acupuncture with moxibustion was performed on specific body points.

For the sham acupuncture control group, body points selected were neither meridian acupoints nor special acupoints.