Revive Your "Get Up and Go" Using Traditional Chinese Medicine


Fatigue, from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, has many different causes.  The remedy will be different depending upon the type of fatigue it is. If you experience fatigue, here are tips that lead to vibrant energy.

Wired & Tired, or Passive & Pooped?

This question identifies what type of fatigue you have: are you “wired and tired,” or “passive and pooped?”  Therein lies the difference between a fatigue caused by an “excess” condition versus one caused by a “deficient” condition.  In TCM, a balance is always desired between qi (energy), blood (lubrication, warming, nurturing), yin (cooling, moistening, stillness) and yang (warming, drying and movement). We seek to have neither an excess nor a deficiency in any of these categories.  When a person’s qi, blood, yin and yang are in balance, she has abundant health and energy.  When any one of these is lacking or imbalanced, it can show up as physical, mental or emotional symptoms. 

The Excess Condition: Qi Stagnation

When discussing excess conditions causing fatigue, the most common pattern is “qi stagnation.”  Symptoms for this pattern include:

  • feeling wired and tired
  •  irritability and/or depression
  • feeling stressed and overwhelmed
  • PMS symptoms
  • frequent sighing
  • tight muscles
  • waking up between 1 AM and 3 AM, and being unable to get back to sleep
  • tension or migraine headaches
  • fatigue that occurs intermittently, rather than constantly present
  • a tongue that has a purplish hue

This pattern of fatigue is experienced when people feel that they have too much to do and not enough time to do it. They feel stuck and feel like they cannot do anything about it.  The pattern can also occur if there are unresolved situations that are causing repressed anger and stress. 

This type of fatigue responds very well to acupuncture and Chinese herbs.  Self-help treatments include exercises like taking a brisk 30 minute walk or daily swim.  Diet-wise, avoid alcohol, sugar, and spicy foods.  Great foods to eat include cooling foods like broccoli, cauliflower, fish and extra virgin olive oil.  Also try to de-stress by doing deep breathing exercises and including more play time in your schedule.  If repressed anger seems to be a part of your fatigue, consider some professional counseling or talk with a trusted advisor to help resolve the situations that you are in and thereby treat the root of the fatigue.

Deficient Conditions: Qi Deficiency

A second common pattern relating to fatigue is “qi deficiency.”  This pattern’s symptoms include:

  • fatigue that is worse as the day goes on, worse after activity, or especially worse after eating
  • muscles feel weak and “heavy”
  • fuzzy thinking, difficulty making decisions
  • loose stools
  • tongue may be pale, and swollen, but will have scallops (little indentations) on the sides of the tongue. 

This type of pattern happens as a result of too much worry and concentrating.  Acupuncture can help with this pattern, but Chinese herbs and dietary changes are the key here.  Avoiding dairy and cold, raw food is a step in the right direction.  Including warm soups and stews that nurture the body are a crucial element, as is finding a method to deal with excess worry and work.  Adequate rest is very important with healing this pattern.

The Yin/Yang Factor

Another item to evaluate in differentiating the type of fatigue present is whether your body temperature tends to be warmer or colder than that of other people, as evidenced by the next two types of fatigue.

Yang Deficiency

“Yang deficiency” fatigue may occur as we age.  Since yang is warm and encourages activity, a lack of yang in the body will be reflected by these symptoms:

  • feeling cold in general
  •  being more fatigued when exposed to cold environments
  • feeling a lack of motivation for movement (think couch potato)
  •  low back pain and/or knee pain
  • low libido
  • tongue is pale and swollen

This pattern can be associated with chronic illness or chronic physical overexertion.  Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help, but this pattern may take longer to correct than other types.  For self-care, add warming spices such as cinnamon, cloves, pepper and ginger to foods.  Eat easily digestible foods like warm whole grains.  Nuts, black beans, onions and garlic are also beneficial.  Warm baths help to tonify the yang.  Staying warm is important to nourish the body, as is avoiding overexertion.

Yin Deficiency

“Yin deficiency” is another fatigue pattern.  Like yang deficiency, yin deficiency may be associated with aging.  Common symptoms include:

  • feelings of hot flashes or night sweats
  • fatigue that is worse during the afternoon and evening
  • going to sleep is easy, but wakes frequently and does not experience deep sleep
  • tongue is red, with many little cracks in it
  • mouth always feels dry
  • a jumpy fatigue = tired and easily startled

Acupuncture and especially Chinese herbs address yin deficiency.  Supplement-wise, fish oil nourishes yin.  Foods that are cool and moist like tofu, oats, rice, millet, black beans, yogurt and mangos (sweet, juicy foods) also nurture yin.

We Westerners think that the cure to being tired is getting additional rest, but from the TCM perspective there are many different types of fatigue which require different types of treatment.  If extra rest is not resolving your fatigue, you may want to try a TCM approach to get your “get up and go” going again!

Dr. Colleen Gagliardi is a licensed acupuncturist and Naturopathic Doctor at Whole Health Center in Highlands Ranch.  She is a personal energy expert and helps people find a healthy balance between body, mind and spirit.  PLEASE JOIN DR. GAGLIARDI FOR A COMPLIMENTARY TALK, ENERGY ASSESSMENT AND MINI ACUPUNCTURE TREATMENT ON THURSDAY, JULY 19 AT 6:30pm Located at WHOLE FOODS MARKET HIGHLANDS RANCH 9366 S. Colorado Blvd.  80126.  Seats are limited – please RSVP to 303-471-9355.


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