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Strategies for dealing with different manifestations of fatigue.

Caffeine has been the world’s most popular psychoactive drug among workers since it was first widely used during the dawn of the Industrial Age, keeping labourers awake and busy beyond the course of their natural body clocks. We face more threats to our health in the modern world today. Recent research in both traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Western-style modern medicine is paving the way for a more detailed understanding of exhaustion and its different manifestations, as well as different measures against it.

In TCM, fatigue from stress-related factors is said to affect the liver, kidney and spleen. “We talk about these organs in terms of their functions, not in terms of their anatomy,” clarifies Physician Tan Yi-Roe of the Eu Yan Sang Wellness Clinic at Marina Bay Link Mall. “The liver is responsible for the circulation of qi. Stress affects the liver, which in turn stagnates the circulation of qi.” Qi can be explained as a vital energy or life force that is fundamental to our body’s processes and wellbeing. Disruption of its levels and circulation within us can lead to illnesses. The condition manifests into four specific effects, namely: qi deficiency, yang deficiency, yin deficiency, and blood deficiency.

TCM Treatments

While the two primary treatments of stress-related enervation are acupuncture and herbal prescriptions, TCM practitioners have to know which type of deficiency—qi, yin, yang or blood—the patient suffers from. Knowing this helps them choose the meridian points to target and the right herbs to prescribe. Once that is determined, acupuncture can help to correct the exact imbalances and produce a calming effect. Tui na and cupping can also provide secondary relief to the body’s agitated state.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a disorder that cannot be treated with mere sleep and rest. Medical professionals are still unable to identify the exact causes of this debilitating condition. There is no singular test for CFS, but several criteria have been established to help healthcare professionals make a diagnosis. The central symptom of CFS is severe fatigue that lasts for at least six months and doesn’t improve with rest.

Beyond Current TCM Strategies

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong carried out a randomised controlled trial of qi gong exercise on participants with symptoms of chronic fatigue. The participants were between 18 and 55 years of age, and were assigned randomly to either a qi gong intervention programme or a control group. Results of the study showed that the physical and mental symptoms of fatigue in the qi gong group underwent an improvement compared to those in the control group. While these results are certainly promising, the study also faced several limitations, including the fact that the participants did not undergo a medical examination prior to the study, and may have had chronic disorders that were otherwise undiagnosed, thus affecting the results.

Western Medicine’s Continuous Quest

Currently, several treatment strategies are used to manage the symptoms of CFS by alleviating some of its associated factors, such as chronic stress. Ampligen (rintatolimod) is an experimental drug that has been studied for its efficacy against CFS.

Graded Exercise Therapy is a structured, mutually agreed and monitored programme that plans gradual increments of exercise and physical activity to help established regular patterns of activity that can improve energy levels, physical fitness, strength, as well as sleep. It also helps set manageable goals and encourages balance in the daily lives of patients. Those who are experiencing its symptoms may try to address some factors that are linked to fatigue at the very least, such as long-term stress. Emotional factors such as guilt, pain from past hurts, self-destructive habits, and unresolved relationship problems may serve as an ever-present stressor. Dealing with these problems directly is much more beneficial than trying to compensate for the stress they create.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock. This article first appeared in NATURA magazine issue No.10. Find NATURA at Eu Yan Sang retail outlets, newsstands and major bookstores in Singapore.