Chronic fatigue is one of the most common complaints heard in the clinic. Many different illnesses and prescription drugs are capable of causing fatigue, and it is important that a medical history be taken to determine which of these, if any, may be causing the problem.
Unfortunately, many people who suffer from chronic fatigue have submitted themselves to the usual tests and have obtained no clear diagnosis. It is then frustrating for them to hear that their problem, which is often debilitating, is "psychological" or merely "psychosomatic." Of course, in some cases, the etiology is psychological. But even though fatigue is an important somatic symptom of depression, conversely, it is natural for a psychologically healthy person who feels extremely fatigued to become depressed about being in such a condition.
In such cases where there is no clear organic, psychological or pharmaceutical cause, chronic fatigue is commonly related to immune deficiency and is clinically associated with a lingering viral infection, most notably the Epstein-Barr virus. Besides exhaustion, other symptoms of Chronic Epstein Barr Virus (CEBV) infection occur. The most notable are a lack of ability to concentrate or recall simple things (called "brain fog" by some), recurrent sore throats, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, muscle pain or weakness, and intermittent depression. In this case, though, the depression is not necessarily a cause of fatigue, but rather an effect of the infection.
The Epstein Barr virus also causes mononucleosis, the so-called "kissing disease." Most people have been exposed to the virus, evidenced by the fact that about 80% of the population has antibodies against it. The symptoms of mononucleosis resemble those of chronic fatigue, but the disease runs its course in 4 to 6 weeks, whereas in the case of chronic fatigue, the immune system is too weak to fight off the virus, which remains in the body creating problems.
There are many reasons why some people have weak immune systems. Frequent use of antibiotics and birth control pills, improper diet and exercise, stress, and an overly competitive attitude have been blamed by some. The important thing is acupuncture and herbs can strengthen a weakened immune system.
At the core of the disease is a pattern in Chinese medicine that is called "deficiency of qi." "Qi" is the vital energy of the body and mind. Herbs and acupuncture points that strengthen the qi are employed, along with other points and herbs to customize the treatment. Most of the herbs are taken from a category of botanical remedies called "adaptogens." The term adaptogen was coined by Soviet scientists who studied the physiological effects of tonic herbs that have been used by the Chinese for centuries to enhance resistance to disease, improve physiological and mental functioning, and increase longevity. Research has proved that these herbs have a non-specific strengthening effect on the immune system, as well as other systems of the body, such as the cardiovascular, digestive and respiratory systems.
Another class of herbs is used as well. Traditionally found in the clear heat, clean toxin category, these herbs have an anti-viral effect, though the exact mechanism of their action is not completely understood. Traditionally, they have been used for inflammatory conditions such as sore throat, swollen lymph glands and fevers.
In Oriental medicine, it is important to treat the person rather than the disease. Often, other patterns are involved in CEBV, so acupuncture and herbal treatments must be adjusted accordingly. Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture have a long tradition of use in the treatment and prevention of immune-related disorders. They have been shown to be effective in the treatment of CEBV as well, and a patient will usually experience results in 3 to 6 months.