12 Natural Therapies for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

(Last Updated On: September 28, 2019)

There are a number of proven natural therapies for chronic fatigue syndrome. Yes, research is proving that a condition that conventional medicine has deemed ‘untreatable’ is certainly treatable according to the research.

natural therapy for chronic fatigue

There are proven natural strategies to help chronic fatigue.

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

According to the Centers of Disease Control, at least one million Americans have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). But since this disorder is often not diagnosed, we know the actual number is significantly higher.

The typical diagnostic criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome is six months or more of chronic fatigue. But many CFS patients also report a number of other symptoms, which include muscle pain, fevers, sore throats, headaches, sleep problems and others.

Most physicians are stymied for treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome. Some consider the condition to be purely psychological so they end up prescribing psychotropic medications or narcotic drugs.

When the person is seen as simply a biological machine, then treating something like chronic fatigue syndrome with pharmaceuticals will often have limited success.

Let’s dig right in and lay out the science on natural strategies:

Rhodiola rosea

Researchers from Sweden’s Uppsala University tested 60 people who were suffering from stress-related chronic fatigue. The researchers gave half the group 576 milligrams of Rhodiola extract per day for 20 days. The other half received a placebo.

The scientists found that the patients given the Rhodiola scored significantly better on fatigue symptom tests, depression tests and attention tests. They also had reduced physiological stress, noted by the levels of cortisol. Their scores on the Pines burnout scale and the mental health scales were also significantly higher after taking the Rhodiola.

Other studies have shown similar effects. A 2012 review found 11 randomized clinical trials, most of which supported a finding that Rhodiola reduced fatigue and enhanced physical performance.

Siberian Ginseng

A study from the University of Iowa College of Medicine studied over 100 patients with chronic fatigue. They were given a placebo or Siberian ginseng. After two months, of the 96 patients treated with Siberian ginseng, 76 provided data to the researchers.

Of those 76 patients, 45 reported that the ginseng was effective at reducing fatigue. Of those with fatigue for over five years, 41 reported effectiveness after taking the ginseng.

Panex Ginseng and Echinacea

Both of these herbs have been known to increase endurance and immunity. Researchers from the University of California Irvine Medical Center tested both Panex ginseng and Echinacea herbs on blood from a group of people who had either Chronic fatigue syndrome or AIDS.

The researchers found that both herbs significantly boosted immune factors in the patients’ blood cells.

Lixujieyu herbal formula

A number of studies have found that a certain TCM herbal formula can significantly stem chronic fatigue. The formula used for the chronic fatigue patients contains specific plant parts of several herbs. Here is the Lixujieyu formula plant list with species, common names and the plant part used:

• Astragalus root – Huangqi (Radix Astragali Mongolici – root of Astragalus membranaceus)
• Kudzu root – Ge-gen (Radix Puerariae Lobatae – root of Pueraria Lobata)
• Ginseng root – Sanqi (Radix Noto ginseng – Panex ginseng)
• Epimedium /Barrenwort leaves – Yinyanghuo (Herba Epimedii Brevicornus)
• Curcuma wenyujin root – Yujin (Radix Curcumae Wenyujin)
• Acorus gramineus bud – Acori Tatarinowii – Shichangpu (Rhizoma Acori Tatarinowii)

A clinical study from Shanghai University studied 120 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. This 2012 study treated the patients with either the Lixujieyu formula or vitamin B plus oryzanol tablets (another TCM formula) twice a day. This study found that symptoms of fatigue, depression, anxiety and other scores were improved in the group treated with the Lixujieyu formula.

A study of 75 chronic fatigue syndrome patients treated the patients with either the Lixujieyu formula or vitamin B plus oryzanol tablets twice a day. Both groups were treated for three months.

In this study, the researchers tested fatigue scores along with various immune cells. They found that not only were fatigue scores lower after the Lixujieyu treatment, but Th-cells, T-cells and CD4/CD8 cell ratios were significantly lower in the Lixujieyu group.

Five Element Music Therapy

Five-element music therapy means musical tones that harmonize with particular meridians, organs and emotions. These five types of music therapy, together with their respective organ and emotion:

• Jiao – liver – anger – do
• Zhi – heart – joy – re
• Gong – spleen – anxiety – mi
• Shang – worry – lungs – so
• Yu – kidneys – fear – la

These last phrases apply to the five elements music scale, which corresponds with the musical scales (do, re, mi, so, la).

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Five element music will also be soothing and melodious. Other research has found these are helpful for various types of disorders, especially when combined with herbal therapy and/or acupuncture.

The music used in this study was composed by ShiFeng, and came from a compact disc called – you guessed it – Five Element Music. The music was performed by the Philharmonic of the Central Conservatory of Music.

Researchers from China’s Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine studied 75 patients diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.

The researchers divided the patients into six groups of 15 each:
• Group one was treated with an herbal blend called Lixujieyu together with a type of five-element music therapy called Gong Tune.
• The second group of 15 was treated with the Lixujieyu formula along with another music therapy called Jiao Tune.
• The third treatment group was given the Lixujieyu herbs together with a music therapy called Yu Tune.
• The fourth group was treated with Lixujieyu and Shang Tune.
• The fifth group was given the Lixujieyu herbs with Zhi Tune.
• The last group was the control group. These 15 patients were treated with the Lixujieyu herbs without the music therapy.

Each patient was given a dose of 300 milliliters of the Lixujieyu decoction twice a day. The decoction was prepared by the university pharmacy.

Each patient was tested and then treated for four weeks. They were then tested again after the four weeks of treatment.

The music therapy patients listened to the music each week for five days with two days off. They started at either noon or 7 pm each day. They listened to the music for 45 minutes each session at a volume of between 55 and 65 decibels.

The researchers used three ways to judge the success of the treatments. These included the Fatigue Scale, a standard criteria as approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to assess chronic fatigue syndrome. The researchers also utilized the Hamilton Depression Scale or HAMD, along with the Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAMA) to assess the deeper elements of the condition.

All the treatment groups had reduced symptoms after the treatment period. But the researchers found that two of the treatment groups had a more significant reduction in their symptoms, compared to the other groups.

The two successful treatments were achieved in groups one and two. These were given the Lixujieyu formula with the Gong Tune, and the Lixujieyu with the Jiao Tune.

The control group’s fatigue scale went from 22.6 to 20.2. This was just from the herb formula alone – which is a respectable drop of nearly 11 percent from the beginning of the study.

But group one’s fatigue scale dropped from 19.8 to 12.5 – a drop of nearly 37 percent.

And group two’s fatigue scale dropped from 22.1 to 14.2 – a drop of 36 percent.

These two groups used the Gong Tune and Jiao Tune respectively. These correspond to the organs of the liver and spleen and anxiety and anger, respectively.

Acupuncture

A number of studies have shown that acupuncture can significantly help chronic fatigue sufferers. A review study published in 2018 analyzed 23 randomized controlled trials that included 1,776 people. They found that acupuncture, acupoint and moxibustion were all successful in treating CFS patients.

These trials used various tests to grade symptom improvement, including Chalder’s fatigue scale, the fatigue severity scale, the fatigue assessment instrument by Joseph E. Schwartz, Bell’s fatigue scale, and symptom testing used with drug trials.

Other research shows that cupping can help chronic fatigue.

TCM approach to Chronic Fatigue

Most of the therapies above are based upon Traditional Chinese Medicine. Traditional medicine sees chronic fatigue quite differently. An understanding of the deeper elements of the person – notably the mind-body-spirit connection – is something that traditional medicines have utilized for centuries to treat billions of people.

Traditional Chinese Medicine sees chronic fatigue syndrome from a deeper level. The translation of the definition of the condition most closely resembles the word “melancholia” – alluding to the connection with the deeper person within.

Energy from a metabolic level is invigorated through the flow of Yang Qi according to TCM. Qi is the flow of the life force within the body. For this reason, chronic fatigue is typically designated as a Yang/Qi deficiency. The herbs, music, and forms of acupuncture described above are aimed at increasing the Yang/Qi energy within the body according to TCM experts.

Another TCM herb that is often prescribed by Chinese doctors for Yang/Qi deficiency is Schisandra chinensis.

Meditation

In a healthy person, each of our brain regions – each cortex – will be thick with gray matter. Areas where gray matter is critical include the cerebral cortex, the cerebellum, the cuneal and precuneal cortices, the motor cortices and the somatosensory cortex among others.

Having normal levels of gray matter is critical to our brain’s proper functioning, which includes decision-making, executive cognitive functions, retaining memories and so on. They are also critical for the brain’s sensory and motor responses.

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Why is this important? Because brain scan research has found that people with chronic pain and chronic fatigue will typically also have abnormal levels of gray matter among different cortices of the brain.

Chronic pain, for example, has been linked to a reduction of gray matter in the cerebral cortex. And chronic fatigue syndrome patients have been found to have less gray matter in prefrontal and occipital cortices of the brain.

In a 2016 study from the King’s College in London and the University of the Laguna in Spain, doctors measured the brain volumes of 46 adults.

Half of the group (23 adults) were experienced practitioners in Sahaja Yoga Meditation. They had meditated using the system for between five and 26 years. They practiced meditation for between 34 and 150 minutes per day. The other 34 people were matched for age, sex and education. They did not meditate.

The researchers found that the whole brain grey matter volume was significantly greater among those who meditated. Brain regions with more volume included the insula, orbitofrontal cortex, inferior temporal cortex, parietal cortex and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex.

Other research has found similar results. Scientists from the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center at Duke University Medical Center tested seven hatha yoga meditation practitioners and seven people who did not have a history of hatha yoga or meditation. They were all between the ages of 18 and 55.

The researchers gave each of the subjects a battery of tests, including those on symptoms of depression, anxiety and mood states. They also tested cognition and of course, conducted MRI brain scans on each.

The meditation practitioners had significantly greater gray matter volumes in a number of brain regions. These included the bilateral orbital frontal cortex, the right middle frontal and the left pre-central region. The meditation practitioners also had higher levels of gray matter among the cerebellum, the temporal cortices, the occipital cortex and the hippocampus.

One of the most important findings was the significant increase in gray matter among the prefrontal cortex regions of the meditation practitioners. Other research has found this region of the brain is involved in decision making, reward-consequence, lifestyle evaluation, control and action coordination.

Getting outdoors

Researchers from Japan’s Kyoto University tested 22 cancer patients for four months. The patients were given weekly sessions of four central protocols: They worked in the garden, planting seeds and caring for plants – termed horticultural therapy. They engaged in walking in the forest. They were engaged in yoga meditation exercises. And they attended weekly support group therapy sessions.

The researchers assessed the patients before and after the therapy using several assessments. Quality of life was assessed using the Short Form-36 Health Survey Questionnaire. Fatigue was assessed using the Cancer Fatigue Scale. Psychological moods and state of mind was assessed using the Profile of Mood States index and State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Spiritual well-being was assessed using the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy-Spiritual. And their immune system was assessed through testing for natural killer cell (NK cells) activity.

The researchers found that the outdoor therapy significantly increased quality of life scores. They also found reduced cancer-related fatigue and increased functional well-being scores among the patients. The outdoor therapy also improved moods and emotions among the patients after the twelve week testing period.

Other research has shown the success of getting outside. Other evidence shows that forest walking has heart benefits and improves quality of life. Indeed, part of this effect is due to the benefits of natural sunshine.

Exercise

A 2017 study from Oxford University and the Norwegian Institute for Public Health investigated the clinical research for exercise and chronic fatigue in a Cochrane review. They found that a number of studies supported that vigorous exercise therapy lessened chronic fatigue symptoms. They also found that exercise did not increase chronic fatigue as some might imagine.

Sleep

One study found that patients with chronic fatigue syndrome spent 544 minutes in bed versus 465 minutes each night among normal persons. They also found that chronic fatigue patients spent more time awake after falling asleep. This and other studies have indicated that sleep disturbance is a major factor in chronic fatigue syndrome.

In the review above on exercise, the researchers also investigated the results of sleep improvement on chronic fatigue syndrome. They found that improving sleep had a small but noticeable effect upon chronic fatigue patients.

Research has also illustrated that insomnia is associated with less gray matter in the brain’s left orbitofrontal cortex.

Probiotics

A number of studies have shown that probiotics can decrease stress, improve moods and help sleep. But can probiotics also help chronic fatigue?

A 2009 study from Sweden’s Karolinska institute studied 15 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. They were given a probiotic supplement containing Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis. They took the probiotics for four weeks. Four weeks after that supplementation period, 6 of the 15 patients (40%) reported significant improvement in their chronic fatigue symptoms.

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Case Adams, PhD

Case Adams has a Ph.D. in Natural Health Sciences, is a California Naturopath and is Board Certified as an Alternative Medicine Practitioner, with clinical experience and diplomas in Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling, Homeopathy and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 27 books and numerous articles on print and online magazines. Contact: case@caseadams.com