Herbal Remedies for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Dismissed by much of the mainstream medical community, sufferers of chronic fatigue may find relief in herbs. Here’s one medical doctor’s experience treating the condition

| July/August 1999

  • Illustrations by Eris Klein
  • Qi, or vital energy, ideally should flow unhindered through invisible channels in the body. The stomach meridian shown above is just one of the twelve channels. The dots represent acupuncture points.
  • Astragalus
  • Siberian ginseng
  • Licorice

6 Herbal Remedies for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome:
• Energy-building herbs
• Antiviral herbs
• Digestive herbs
• Nervous system herbs
• Treatment guidelines for chronic fatigue
• Pain-relief herbs 

Sarah has been tired for four years. Every day she experiences a bone-deep fatigue that lasts from morning till night. Some days she barely leaves her bed. Every muscle in her thirty-four-year-old body aches, and grocery shopping leaves her exhausted. She has a constant sore throat, and her short-term memory and concentration are severely impaired. Despite her exhaustion, Sarah’s sleep is restless and shallow—every morning she wakes up still tired.

Before she got sick, Sarah was a busy, competent woman. She was working on a Ph.D., held down a part-time job, and was a single mother. She had many friends and had a hard time saying “no” when someone needed her. She was often tired, but she pushed herself to keep going. Then, four years ago, she caught what seemed like a bad flu and never got better. Sarah’s fall into chronic fatigue syndrome had begun.

Sarah is not alone. According to conservative estimates, 200,000 to 500,000 adults in the United States have chronic fatigue syndrome (also called chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome, or CFIDS). Three out of four cases occur in women between ages twenty-five and forty-five, but the condition also occurs in children and the elderly and crosses all ethnic and socioeconomic lines.

CFIDS is a complex illness, the cause of which is unknown. Scientists have examined an array of factors that may be responsible: viral infection, immune system imbalance, altered brain biochemistry, blood pressure problems, red blood cell abnormalities, nutritional deficiencies, adrenal “exhaustion,” and so on. The truth is, all of these factors can be present, but none has been identified as the cause. Still, no one has been able to explain why the body’s normal functions are so profoundly disrupted.

The energy theory

The simplest holistic explanation—though as yet unsupported by science—is that CFIDS is caused by a depletion of qi. Qi, pronounced “chee,” is Chinese for “vital energy.” In the traditional Chinese medical system, diseases such as CFIDS are caused by a qi deficiency. In other words, if the body’s vitality is low, a person is more susceptible to disease. When the deficiency is profound, multiple organ systems become dysfunctional.

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