Fatigue according to Chinese Medicine

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Fatigue can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like fatigue here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here fatigue is often associated with dizziness, palpitations and poor appetite in the pattern “Qi Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause fatigue.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of fatigue we’ve identified five herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat fatigue.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause fatigue

In Chinese Medicine fatigue is a symptom for 5 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Ginseng (Ren Shen) is the king ingredient for Si Jun Zi Tang, a formula used for Qi Deficiency

Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu), Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

Qi Deficiency simply means lack of Qi. It includes the lack of Original Qi, Nutritive Qi, Defensive Qi or the Qi that resides in Organs or Channels. It mainly manifests itself in a weakened function of Organs and a declining ability of the body to resist diseases.

In addition to fatigue, other symptoms associated with Qi Deficiency include dizziness, palpitations and poor appetite.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Qi Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Abnormal Uterine Bleeding or Heavy Menstruation.

Qi Deficiency is often treated with Si Jun Zi Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Ginseng - Ren Shen - as a key herb). Si Jun Zi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Qi".

Read more about Qi Deficiency here

The Stomach is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Stomach in Chinese Medicine

Stomach Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu)

Tongue color: Pale

In addition to fatigue, other symptoms associated with Stomach Qi Deficiency include poor appetite, loose stools and weak limbs.

Stomach Qi Deficiency is often treated with Si Jun Zi Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Ginseng - Ren Shen - as a key herb). Si Jun Zi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Qi".

Read more about Stomach Qi Deficiency here

The Heart is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Heart in Chinese Medicine

Heart Yang Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Knotted (Jie), Weak (Ruo)

This pattern has similar symptoms to Heart Qi Deficiency, though they are usually more severe and include symptoms of Coldness. It is from similar causes as Heart Qi Deficiency, or can be from a Deficiency of Kidney Yang since that is the body's source of Yang.

In addition to fatigue, other symptoms associated with Heart Yang Deficiency include palpitations, feeling of cold and spontaneous sweating.

Heart Yang Deficiency is often treated with Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Cinnamon Bark - Rou Gui - as a key herb). Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify yin and yang", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Rectifies relationship between Yin and Yang".

Read more about Heart Yang Deficiency here

The Kidneys is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine

Kidney Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Empty (Xu), Weak (Ruo), Floating (Fu)

Tongue color: Pale, Red

In addition to fatigue, other symptoms associated with Kidney Deficiency include dizziness, pale face and tinnitus.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Kidney Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Abnormal Uterine Bleeding.

Kidney Deficiency is often treated with You Gui Wan, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Prepared Aconite - Zhi Fu Zi - as a key herb). You Gui Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that warm yang and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms and tonifies Kidney Yang".

Read more about Kidney Deficiency here

Dong Quai (Dang Gui) is the king ingredient for Sheng Yu Tang, a formula used for Blood and Qi Deficiency

Blood and Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Weak (Ruo), Fine (Xi)

Tongue coating: Partial absence of coating

Tongue color: Pale

In addition to fatigue, other symptoms associated with Blood and Qi Deficiency include dizziness, palpitations and insomnia.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Blood and Qi Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Menstrual Cramps or Absence Of Menstruation.

Blood and Qi Deficiency is often treated with Sheng Yu Tang, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Dong Quai - Dang Gui - as a key herb). Sheng Yu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify blood", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Qi and Blood".

Read more about Blood and Qi Deficiency here

Five herbal formulas that might help with fatigue

Gui Pi Tang

Source date: 1529 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies and nourish Qi and Blood. Tonifies Heart and Spleen.

Why might Gui Pi Tang help with fatigue?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi Deficiency' of which fatigue is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Qi Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Abnormal Uterine Bleeding.

Read more about Gui Pi Tang here

Si Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach.

Why might Si Jun Zi Tang help with fatigue?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Stomach Qi Deficiency' of which fatigue is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Stomach Qi Deficiency include poor appetite, loose stools and weak limbs.

Read more about Si Jun Zi Tang here

Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Rectifies relationship between Yin and Yang. Harmonizes Heart and Kidney. Stabilizes and secures Essence.

Why might Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang help with fatigue?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Heart Yang Deficiency' of which fatigue is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Heart Yang Deficiency include palpitations, feeling of cold and spontaneous sweating.

Read more about Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang here

Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Source date: 1247

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner). Raises the Yang. Detoxifies. Lifts what has sunken.

Why might Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang help with fatigue?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Blood and Qi Deficiency' of which fatigue is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Blood and Qi Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Low Breast Milk Supply.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang here

You Gui Wan

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Warms and tonifies Kidney Yang. Replenishes the Essence. Tonifies the Blood.

Why might You Gui Wan help with fatigue?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Kidney Deficiency' of which fatigue is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Kidney Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Abnormal Uterine Bleeding.

Read more about You Gui Wan here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat fatigue

Why might Ginseng (Ren Shen) help with fatigue?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat fatigue and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat fatigue as a symptom (such as Gui Pi Tang for instance).

Ginseng is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Very strongly tonifies the Qi. Tonifies the Lungs and Spleen. Assists the body in the secretion of Fluids and stops thirst. Strengthens the Heart and calms the Shen (mind/spirit).

Read more about Ginseng here

Why might Jujube Date (Da Zao) help with fatigue?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat fatigue and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat fatigue as a symptom (such as Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang for instance).

Jujube Dates is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen and Stomach Qi. Tonifies the Blood. Calms the Shen (spirit). Moderates the actions of other herbs in formula.

Read more about Jujube Dates here

Why might Prepared Aconite (Zhi Fu Zi) help with fatigue?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat fatigue and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat fatigue as a symptom (such as You Gui Wan for instance).

Prepared Aconite is a Hot herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Kidney.

Its main actions are: Raises the collapse of Yang. Warms the meridians and relieves pain caused by Cold. Reduces Damp caused by Deficiency in Yang.

Read more about Prepared Aconite here

Why might Eucommia Bark (Du Zhong) help with fatigue?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat fatigue and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat fatigue as a symptom (such as Dang Gui Di Huang Yin for instance).

Eucommia Bark is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Liver and Kidneys. Calms ascendant Liver Yang (hypertension/high blood pressure). Calms a restless fetus.

Read more about Eucommia Bark here

Why might Codonopsis Root (Dang Shen) help with fatigue?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat fatigue and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat fatigue as a symptom (such as He Che Da Zao Wan for instance).

Codonopsis Roots is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen and Lung Qi. Assists in the secretion of Bodily Fluids.

Read more about Codonopsis Roots here