A very common complaint that I hear from my patients is that they constantly feel tired. Sometimes this fatigue is related to lack of sleep, but often there is no amount of rest that seems to alleviate the fatigue. From an acupuncture and East Asian Medicine perspective, there are numerous imbalances in our bodies that can cause the constant fatigue.
Everything in our bodies is made of energy, in some form or another. If you break the body down to the cellular level, we are nothing but energy. And energy waxes and wanes based on the inputs being given. Western medicine views the body as a set of cells that perform specific functions and disease as a problem with cellular function. East Asian Medicine (EAM) takes a different view of the human body, in which the body emerges as system of energy, called “qi” (pronounced “chee”). Qi runs through and around the body via paths known as meridians. Generally speaking, qi consists of two main complementary energy forces: yin and yang.
- Yin energy is slow and cold. Yin derives from quiet activities like resting, meditation, and deep breathing.
- Yang energy is fast and hot. Yang energy comes from challenging physical and mental activities, such as exercise, concentrated effort, and external forces that cause stress.
According to EAM, fatigue can arise when the body’s energy flow becomes imbalanced or stuck. Here are some of the most common imbalances that can lead to fatigue, lethargy, lack of energy and motivation, and tiredness.
Qi is weak – Simply put, when systems in our body are compromised (through illness, heredity, stress or lifestyle choices), they can’t produce the abundance of good, positive energy our body and mind needs to function. Many different systems in our body can produce a feeling of fatigue when they are weakened.
When the qi of our spleen and lungs is compromised, we often feel like we don’t have enough energy to get through the day. This sort of fatigue often improves with good sleep, hygiene and a healthy diet.
When our liver blood energy is weakened (through overwork, prolonged poor sleep, prolonged poor diet, chronic illness or excessive bleeding), the fatigue we experience is hard to shake. We may feel restless, and have a hard time falling asleep even though we are tired. This type of fatigue is improved by eating more dark leafy greens and more organ meats, to nourish the blood energy.
A deficiency of either kidney yin or kidney yang – our two most fundamental energies – can also result in fatigue. This kind of fatigue manifests as true exhaustion. It is very important to give yourself ample time to rest and recover from this type of tiredness. Dietary changes, as well as herbal medicine, can also be very helpful.
Qi is stuck – Fatigue does not always stem from a weakness in your body’s energy. Sometimes fatigue comes from energy not moving properly. Health, in EAM, is all about the smooth flow of energy through the body. When something alters that smooth flow, fatigue can be a result.
When your body’s energy is not flowing the way it should, your body actually has to exert a lot more energy to keep you running. The kind of fatigue that comes from qi stagnation (energy not flowing well), can present as a fatigue that is actually better with exercise or movement. It is the kind of fatigue that makes it really hard to get to the gym, but completely disappears once you complete your work out. Qi stagnation fatigue can make us feel “tired but wired,” and can also be closely related to feeling overwhelmed or run down by stress. This sort of fatigue is helped by exercise, movement, and stress-reduction techniques.
Dampness is present – Dampness is a concept somewhat unique to EAM. I refers to an abnormal processing of fluids in the body. Dampness can lodge itself in many different areas and can lead to numerous symptoms. When dampness is pervasive throughout the whole body, usually one experiences a kind of constant fatigue. This can be both physical and mental. Patients who are tired from dampness describe feeling sluggish, heavy or fuzzy. This kind of fatigue is greatly improved by making dietary changes, such as reducing the intake of dairy, cold temperature or raw foods and greasy or fried foods. Dampness is also improved by regular exercise, which helps to break through that sluggishness. Also, trying to remove yourself from damp environments can be beneficial for this kind of fatigue.
In all of these situations, acupuncture and herbal formulas can be a huge help. Acupuncture and herbs focus on creating balance in the body to restore energy and vitality, rather than giving you false energy like coffee or an energy drink. You don’t deserve to be tired all the time and the combination of diet, lifestyle changes and East Asian Medicine can get you back on the road to good health.