Low energy and constant feelings of tiredness are a frequent common complaint for many of the women I see. The causes of fatigue are often complex, and can include (but not limited to):
- depression or anxiety
- poor nutrition (in particular low protein intake and over consumption of fast burn carbohydrates)
- low blood sugar
- iron deficiency anaemia
- nutritional deficiencies including: iron, B complex, B12
- chronic viral infections
- hormonal imbalance
- lack of exercise
- poor quality sleep
- thyroid dysfunction
- perimenopause or menopause
Most commonly fatigue is a symptom occurring within a complex of co-existing health issues. Thorough case taking often involves further medical investigation including blood tests to investigate underlying causes of the fatigue.
TCM and fatigue
Frequently, there are energetic causes for fatigue. Pulse and tongue diagnosis, combined with thorough case taking reveal a clear picture of underlying meridian energetic imbalances contributing to lack of energy.
Frequently “qi deficiency” is seen with fatigue. The patient feels weak and tired much of the time. The pulse is usually weak and the complexion is pale, often with shortness of breath and poor appetite.
A combination of acupuncture and moxibustion (warming the acupuncture points with moxa) is used to treat qi deficiency. Tonifying Chinese herbs are also used.
Often “blood deficiency” is an underlying cause of fatigue. Sometimes blood tests will return normal, but there is still an energetic imbalance related to blood (a Chinese medicine concept). Blood deficiency often produces symptoms such as: fatigue, pale complexion, light or absent periods, dizziness, faintness, sensitivity to cold, floaters in the visual field.
Acupuncture, moxibustion and Chinese herbs can effectively build and nourish blood.
Energetic deficiency in any of the acupuncture meridians can lead to fatigue. This is especially so when the deficiency effects the kidney, liver, spleen or heart meridians.
Acupuncture therapy for fatigue involves weekly visits for a minimum of six weeks. In severe or long standing cases, the ideal treatment would involve twice weekly treatments for the first 1 – 3 weeks. Improvement in energy levels is often experienced after as little as two treatments.
Fertility – General
Traditional Chinese Acupuncture has an extremely long and impressive history of the treatment of both primary and secondary infertility. Acupuncture can effectively address many of the causes of infertility including:
- Low sperm count and poor sperm motility
- Irregular menses and lack of ovulation
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
- Female hormonal imbalance
Treatment involves bi-weekly or weekly acupuncture for a variable length of time, depending on the circumstances of the couple. Concurrently, a naturopathic pre-conception program is commenced. This optimises the health and wellbeing of both the male and female partners, and prepares them for a health conception and pregnancy. This program involves a dietary protocol along with nutritional supplementation. Often traditional Chinese herbal formulations are used to improve fertility.
The TCM focus in the treatment of female infertility is very much on normalising the production and circulation of the “blood” energy in the body. Many female fertility issues result from a deficiency, stagnation or blockage of this energy. In my clinic I see two main features in women having difficulty conceiving. The first is a generalised deficiency of blood and qi…. An exhaustion of vital force. This results from over activity, too much stress and lack of rest and relaxation.
The second most common imbalance is a stagnation or blockage of the liver energy. Liver qi is involved in the smooth flow and regulation of hormones, digestion, mood and energy. Liver qi stagnation results from ongoing stress with suppression of emotions leading to feelings of frustration and anger. Excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine, along with a sedentary lifestyle also contribute to liver qi stagnation.
Acupuncture and IVF
Clinical trials suggest that the use of acupuncture in conjunction with assisted reproductive technology such as IVF significantly improves outcome. A recent review of clinical trials, published in the British Medical Journal found that using acupuncture with IVF resulted in a:
- 65% increase in pregnancy
- 87% increase in likelihood of pregnancy continuing
- 91% increase in live birth rate
In clinical trials acupuncture is performed shortly before and after embryo transfer. As a TCM acupuncturist, I encourage my fertility clients to have regular acupuncture treatment throughout the course of their IVF process. Treatment is given once a week, for several weeks leading up to embryo transfer. This ensures that a woman’s qi and blood are strong and balanced, thus, increasing her wellbeing and health prior to conception, and increasing the likelihood of a healthy pregnancy.
Fibrocystic Breast Disease/Chronic Cystic Mastitis/Mammary Dysplasia
Fibrocystic breasts are simply “lumpy” (and usually painful) breasts. Lumpy breasts effect around 50% of menstruating women at some stage in their life, most commonly between the ages of 30 and 50. The cystic breast lumps can range from a single lump through to multiple lumps, and vary in size from the size of a pea to the size of a golf ball.
Painful, lumpy breasts are usually caused by a female hormonal imbalance. Breasts which become painful and lumpy in the premenstrual period usually indicate an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone, with relatively too much estrogen. There is also usually an excess of the female hormone prolactin
- painful, lumpy breasts
- symptoms may be present only during the premenstrual time
- symptoms may stay constant throughout the month
If you have discovered a lump in your breast (painful or otherwise) it is important to see your medical practitioner to rule out (the highly unlikely) possibility of breast cancer.
Treatment usually involves a combination of dietary change, exercise, herbal medicine and clinical nutrition supplementation, along with Traditional Chinese Acupuncture.
TCM understands breast lumps (either benign or malignant) as a manifestation of stuck or congealed qi and blood (the two energies influenced by acupuncture). Over a long period of stagnation of energy, qi gradually congeals into physical lumps. There are several energy imbalances which contribute to breast lumps, but by far the most common imbalance is a stagnation of the liver energy.
The liver meridian is linked with the breasts through deep, internal energy lines. The liver is charged with the “smooth flow” of energy and emotion throughout the body. Liver qi stagnation is usually related to long term stagnation and suppression of emotion, in particular anger and frustration. Lack of exercise, and excessive alcohol consumption also aggravate free flow of liver energy.
Acupuncture treatment may initially involve twice weekly sessions, decreasing to once a week, and then once a fortnight until the condition is healed. Improvement can be seen in as little as two weeks, or may take 4 to 6 weeks.
Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors or lumps that grow in the muscular walls of the uterus. They can occur in isolation or clusters, and can vary in size from the size of a pea to the size of a melon! Fibroids are most common in women in their middle menstruating years. As estrogen levels decline after menopause, fibroids often shrink naturally, as they are “fed” by estrogen.
Fibroids, like endometriosis, and many cases of breast cancer, are considered to be an estrogenic condition. In particular, high circulating estrogen levels, along with poor liver detoxification of this hormone are often a part of their development.
Many women have fibroids and are unaware of them due to lack of symptoms. Other women experience:
- Heavy menstrual periods
- Abdominal distension that does not go away
- Painful periods
- A change in the normal pattern of urination or bowel motions
Uterine fibroids can be improved greatly with a long-term commitment to acupuncture and TCM. There are three main patterns of energy imbalance which lead to fibroids. The most common cause is a stagnation of the blood and qi (such as occurs in endometriosis). Emotional stress or physical trauma frequently contributes to this stasis. Long term use of an IUD can cause blood stasis.
Ongoing heavy periods can themselves lead to blood deficiency and blood stasis. TCM theory also believes that sexual intercourse during menstruation leads to blood stasis. A weakness of the spleen meridian can also contribute to fibroid development and heavy bleedings. Spleen energy is weakened through long term worry; overuse of the mind (such as studying); and a consumption of a cold energy diet containing lots of raw or chilled foods.
Treatment usually involves weekly acupuncture, along with Chinese herbal medicine. Naturopathic changes include a dietary protocol to reduce levels of estrogen metabolites involved in stimulating growth of fibroids; and a gut and liver detoxification program to increase breakdown and excretion of estrogen.