The Benefits of Acupuncture for Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Dorine Lam, RDN, MS, MPH

The benefits of acupuncture and other TCM therapies help with Adrenal FatigueTraditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) originated in ancient China more than 2,500 years ago and is based on the principle that human life is a balance of wellness and harmony. In theory and practice, traditional Chinese medicine, including TCM acupuncture, is completely different from Western medicine, both in terms of considering how the human body works and how illness occurs and should be treated. The benefits of acupuncture impact many systems of the body, including the nervous system. The use of TCM acupuncture for Adrenal Fatigue has shown great results.

Two concepts that are unique and fundamental to TCM are Qi (internal vital energy) and yin and yang (the harmony of all the opposite elements and forces that make up existence). These two concepts form what we might call the roots of Chinese medicine. The Chinese concept of Qi (pronounced chee) is that there is an invincible life force that spontaneously flows freely throughout the body through the Five Elements – Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Watereach representing a distinct quality of the Qi energy that is vital to the continual good health and flow of nature. TCM asserts that Qi is weakened or blocked when a person is ill. Specifically, the illness is a result of the blockage, rather than the blockage being the result of the illness.  The theory of yin and yang states that the two opposites inherent in every object or phenomena in the universe, counterbalance each other; and that one enjoys good health when yin and yang are in balance but when they are out of sync, one becomes sick. TCM asserts that a balance of the opposing forces of yin and yang is necessary for a healthy life and disease arises when they are not. Finally, TCM practitioners believe in curing the root of a disease and not merely in treating its symptoms.

TCM is a broad term encompassing many different modalities and traditions of healing including TCM acupuncture, acupressure, dietary adjustment, qi gong (movements or postures to generate qi), moxibustion (burning an herb above the skin inside a closed container to transmit heat to acupuncture points), herbal medicine, and tui na (Chinese therapeutic tissue massage).

TCM vs. Western Medicine

Compared to Western allopathic medicine, TCM places little emphasis on gross anatomical structure, but is mainly concerned with identification of functional entities such as breathing, digestion, and energy flow.

Good health is seen as a harmonious interaction of these entities within the body and with the outside world. Disease or illness is a result of disharmony. As mentioned before the key is therefore to re-balance the two opposing but complementary energy forces: yin and yang. When yin and yang are balanced, a disease-free healthy body exists. The benefits of acupuncture, qi gong, and other TCM approaches are viewed as aligning the body, increasing energy flow, and balancing the energies of the body.

The TCM diagnostic process traces symptoms to certain patterns of underlying disharmony. This is done by physical examination of palms, inspection of the tongue, palpation of the pulse characteristics, observation of skin tone and eyes, and examining the eating and sleeping habits in relation to other systems.

The Benefits Of Acupuncture

Balancing your kidneys is one of the benefits of acupuncture and is a good strategy for Adrenal FatigueAcupuncture can therefore be seen as a mechanical way to activate the body’s internal energy or de-qi which in turn, automatically travels through the ECM network to locate pathological areas of dysfunction and initiates spontaneous self-healing. Because the ECM is all encompassing within the body, a complete TCM acupuncture program would necessarily involve the whole body. Research into the benefits of acupuncture have shown to have a positive affect on many systems of the body. Intense and frequent acupuncture sessions addressing different parts of the body are required for optimum healing over months if a systemic change is desired. This can be considered by those who are healthy or in mild adrenal fatigue. Those who are weak or in advance stages of AFS fare quite differently. Their ECM is usually congested. Intense sessions can trigger adrenal crashes, fatigue, and anxiety.

The benefits of acupuncture are occurred over time. A single organ focused acupuncture treatment approach carried out once a week for a few weeks usually only yields temporary relief at best and seldom leads to long-term healing. However, the benefits of acupuncture can aid is alleviating some symptoms while other treatments, such as diet changes and nutritional supplementation, are implemented. In this way the greatest benefits of acupuncture is relief, even if short lived, while other treatments have time to begin working. Other benefits of acupuncture include reducing stress and its affect on the body, decreasing anxiety, and increasing a greater sense of well being.

Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and Energy Flow

For Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is no specific element or system in the body that is tied into the adrenal gland itself. The adrenal gland is part of the water elements. It is related to the kidney Qi because it physically sits on top of the kidneys. The kidney area is seen as a key organ that determines the quality of life because the kidneys control the internal Qi, and thus regulates the yin and yang balance.

From the TCM perspective, Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), chronic fatigue, depression, low thyroid function, reduced sexual function, can all be seen as the kidneys yang deficiency state. To address this, TCM focuses on ways to warm the kidneys by increasing yang Qi. This can include acupuncture, acupressure, and herbal remedies. Dietary recommendations include avoiding cold foods and liquids, sugar, and antibiotics.

From the Western medicine perspective, the way to stimulate more energy flow from the adrenal glands involves increasing basal metabolic rate of the body and hormonal production from the adrenals. Compounds used include hydrocortisone, testosterone, DHEA, and pregnenolone, and thyroid medications, to name a few. The goal is to facilitate a higher energy flow in order to overcome fatigue.

The concept of energy flow is foreign to allopathic medicine. The closest equivalent would be to view the yang force as excitatory, driven by anabolic hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, along with stimulatory neurotransmitters including adrenaline and norepinephrine mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. On the other hand, the opposing yin force is calming in nature, mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system and its neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

Excitation Strategy

The benefits of acupuncture focus on balanceAFS at its core represents the body’s neuroendocrine response to stress from the Western medicine perspective. In the early stages of AFS, the adrenal glands are able to put out more cortisol, the main anti-stress hormone. As a result, cortisol output goes up. Looking from the TCM perspective, the kidney’s normal balance between yang and yin force becomes biased towards a state of yang-dominance in the early stages of AFS. To put it simply, the increase in cortisol output is somewhat analogous to an increase in yang forces.

If stress continues unabated beyond the body’s internal handling capability, AFS progresses to more advanced stages. Here, cortisol output ultimately reaches its peak and starts falling as the adrenal glands become exhausted. A state of cortisol depletion then sets in.From the TCM perspective, yin force excessiveness becomes the dominant backdrop as the body becomes depleted of the once dominant yang force.

Simplistically, TCM looks upon AFS as a condition where supplementation of the qi is necessary to up-regulate or boost the kidney system. Western medicine looks at AFS as deficient in cortisol, and thus the use of anabolic and stimulating hormones is indicated. Both TCM and Western medicine therefore see excitation of the adrenal glands as the route to AFS recovery regardless of the severity of AFS. The road to recovery is simple: increase energy flow.

The more fatigue is clinically presented the more aggressively this approach is advocated. As a result, the more severe the weakness, the more TCM acupuncture treatment is prescribed by the TCM practitioner. Similarly, the Western trained physician when faced with unexplained extreme fatigue prescribes more hormones such as thyroid, testosterone, pregnenolone and DHEA.

Without dissecting Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome into various stages and treating each stage uniquely, the danger of continuous and unrelenting stimulation of the adrenal glands by both TCM and allopathic physicians can cause more harm than good over time. This approach can push the body well beyond what it can physiologically handle while the underlying stressor remains. Those who are already weak are at the most risk.

Over excitation can lead to a state of wired and tired. Anxiety increases throughout the day, and insomnia becomes unbearable at night. Without good sleep fatigue gets worse, and a vicious downward cycle gathers steam. The body then activates the alarm response, triggering numerous paradoxical (opposing) reactions, where any attempt at healing will elicit the opposite effect. Calming nutritional supplements may become excitatory. Sleep medications can produce a state of alertness. The final cascade of decompensation can lead to frequent adrenal crashes where the sufferer is ultimately incapacitated.
Let us see how this happens.

Nutritional and Energy Reserves

Proper nutrition in conjunction the benefits of acupuncture are great for Adrenal Fatigue recoveryThe body is an intricate complicated machine with a wonderful self-regulating system. It is very much like a car, which only runs when the gas tank is filled with fuel or gasoline.  When the body is starved of food and sleep, it will not be able to function and carry out many important life functions This is why many people sleep more and go on an eating binge when they are under great stress. Healthy Qi from TCM acupuncture therapy will often help the body replenish its fuel reserves.

Everyday stressors will generally drain the body’s energy and nutritional reserves, so that when the reserve is low, the body will experience a breakdown and great fatigue. With TCM acupuncture therapy, the body continues to experience a never-ending cycle of drain and replenishment of its internal reserves. Healthy and young individuals who are able to eat a nutritious diet and have adequate sleep seem to do the best with acupuncture therapy. Those young adults in the early stages of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, who only suffer from mild fatigue, often experience an intense sense of well-being and increased energy flow after each acupuncture session. They will often notice improved mental focus and can sleep better than before.  It may appear that TCM acupuncture therapy does really help these young adults refill their energy reserves and return them to a life of calm and serenity.

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© Copyright 2014 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

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