Fatigue according to Chinese Medicine

Home > Symptoms list > Fatigue

exhaustion, low energy, mental exhaustion, sleepy, tiredness redirect here

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, poor appetite and loose stools 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, poor appetite and loose stools.

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

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the king ingredient for Er Chen Tang, a formula used for Phlegm

Phlegm

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Thick coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

The concept of Phlegm is much wider and important in Chinese Medicine than in the West. Broadly speaking, Phlegm is a substance produced when the body fails to handle Body Fluids properly.

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

From a Western Medicine standpoint Phlegm is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Late Menstruation or Scanty Menstruation.

Phlegm is often treated with Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Er Chen Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm".

Read more about Phlegm here

Cinnamon Twigs (Gui Zhi) is the king ingredient for Gui Zhi Tang, a formula used for Exterior-Empty

Exterior-Empty

Pulse type(s): Slow (Chi), Floating (Fu)

In addition to fatigue, other symptoms associated with Exterior-Empty include aversion to cold, headaches and aversion to wind.

Exterior-Empty is often treated with Gui Zhi Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Cinnamon Twigs - Gui Zhi - as a key herb). Gui Zhi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that clear wind-cold", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Releases pathogens from the muscle layer".

Read more about Exterior-Empty 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 Qi not Firm

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

Tongue color: Pale

Kidney Qi not Firm means Kidney Qi Deficiency. Two characteristics are typical in this pattern. Firstly, it is a type of Kidney Yang Deficiency with the associated Cold symptoms. Secondly, it is a type of sinking of Kidneys Qi, thus with many ‘leaking’ downwards symptoms.

In addition to fatigue, other symptoms associated with Kidney Qi not Firm include feeling of cold, cold limbs and frequent urination.

Kidney Qi not Firm 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 Qi not Firm here

Five herbal formulas that might help with fatigue

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 '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 Si Jun Zi Tang here

Liu Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach. Clears Phlegm and mucus. Promotes appetite.

Why might Liu Jun Zi Tang help with fatigue?

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

According to Chinese Medicine, Phlegm can contribute to many health issues, including Low Breast Milk Supply.

Read more about Liu Jun Zi Tang here

Gui Zhi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Releases pathogens from the muscle layer. Regulates the Nutritive and Protective Qi.

Why might Gui Zhi Tang help with fatigue?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Exterior-Empty' of which fatigue is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Exterior-Empty include aversion to cold, headaches and aversion to wind.

Read more about Gui Zhi 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

Qing E Wan

Source date: 1107

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Warms and Reinforces Kidney Yang.

Why might Qing E Wan help with fatigue?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Kidney Qi not Firm' of which fatigue is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Kidney Qi Not Firm include feeling of cold, cold limbs and frequent urination.

Read more about Qing E Wan here

Acupuncture points used for fatigue

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 Si Jun Zi 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 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 Qing E Wan 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