Acupuncture Treatment for Fatigue

Acupuncture can have a profound effect on energy levels and fatigue,  effecting many aspects of physiology. The traditional Chinese concepts explain acupuncture treatment as  balancing, purifying  and increasing the qi energy. Qi is the summation of the body energy production, biochemical, electromagnetic and neurologic. In Western medicine there is no parallel concept, though many studies have shown the benefits of acupuncture for fatigue and other problems. 

Acupuncture Impacts Adrenal and Other Hormone Function

One effect that has been proven is the impact acupuncture has on the brain. Functional MRI studies have found that acupuncture impacts the activity of the midbrain which controls adrenal and other hormone function. The balance that the Chinese talked about 2000 years ago is seen in these MRI studies of the brain. The activity of the amygdala, the seat of fear and other emotions can be reduced while the hippocampus activity increases, providing more detailed context regarding negative emotions and regulating cortisol production, therefore improving energy level.

Other hormones are impacted by acupuncture as well. Improved thyroid, sex hormone (testosterone, estradiol, progesterone), and DHEA levels lead to better energy and less fatigue. The autonomic nervous system is targeted by acupuncture leading to improved digestive function as well as better blood flow and lymphatic drainage. Improved digestive leads to greater nutrient levels and improved energy production in cells.

Many of my patients report greater calmness and clarity of thought with acupuncture treatments. This is telling me that indeed we are seeing greater balance in the energy system and the flow of q’i. Calmness reflects a shift in the stress response with cortisol and other hormones achieving appropriate levels and the entire body, mind and spirit functioning moer effectively. Resolution of fatigue, more enthusiasm for life, better sleep and improved self-care establishes long term improvement in fatigue.  

A study published in 2014 in the Oxford Journal of Medicine, (Volume 107, Issue 5, 1 May 2014, Pages 341–345) reviewed the  effects of acupuncture on the neuro-endocrine-immune system, often involved in fatigue.  The article’s title is: Acupuncture modulates the neuro–endocrine–immune network.  Here are some of the findings that relate to fatigue:

Acupuncture Effects on the Nervous, Endocrine and Immune System

  • Acupuncture, unlike drugs, restores normal functions by motivating or inducing the inherent regulatory system in the body
  • Acupuncture can affect neurons functional activities in the brain
  • Acupuncture can affect synthesis, release and action of several neurotransmitters (such as serotonin, dopamine, catecholamine, glutamate, acetylcholine)
  • Acupuncture could reduce hormones such as adreno corticotropic hormone (ACTH), corticosterone related to HPA axis in chronic stress-induced rats.
  • Acupuncture could increase the level of thyrotropin releasing hormone, thyroid stimulating hormone and total three typical thyroid original acid in chronic fatigue rats, to restore the inhibition of HPT axis.  All these studies suggest that acupuncture can modulate the function of HPA, HPG and HPT axes. 
  • Acupuncture can improve the number and function of phagocytes, increase the number and activity of natural killer (NK) cell, promote the synthesis, secretion and biological activities of cytokines and adjust the content of serum complement
  • It can modulate the synthesis and secretion of various kinds of immunoglobulin and promote T-helper lymphocytes secreting cytokines.

Other studies that specifically looked at acupuncture treatment for chronic fatigue have found significant results. One case study  shows improvements in fatigue and the overall mental state of the patient after 10 treatments lasting 30 minutes each. After another 10 treatments, fatigue and heaviness in the limbs had declined. 

In patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFIDS), a study published in Trials, in 2015 found 80% improved with body acupuncture over a 2 month period as measured with Fatigue Severity Scale, Depression Inventory and other measures of function and energy. Even in these complex cases of fatigue acupuncture has shown benefit.

In anyone with long standing fatigue acupuncture can be a valuable addition to a thorough approach including diet, exercise, stress management and nutritional therapies.  


  • “Randomized controlled clinical trials of acupuncture and moxibustion treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome patients." Zhen ci yan jiu= Acupuncture research/[Zhongguo yi xue ke xue yuan Yi xue qing bao yan jiu suo bian ji] 39, no. 4 (2014): 313-317.
  • "Clinical study on electroacupuncture plus interferential current therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome." Journal of Acupuncture and Tuina Science 12, no. 3 (2014): 156-159.
  • “Acupuncture for chronic fatigue syndrome and idiopathic chronic fatigue: a multicenter, nonblinded, randomized controlled trial.” Jung-Eun Kim, et al Trials. 2015; 16: 314.