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  • Writer's picturePhilip Niño Tan-Gatue

Acupuncture for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Meta Analysis

Acupuncture for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is not just “feeling tired”.  WebMD (link) defines it as:

“..a condition that makes you feel so tired that you can’t do all of your normal, daily activities. There are other symptoms too, but being very tired is the main one.” “..Your tiredness is real. It’s not “in your head.” It is your body’s reaction to a mix of factors.”
  1. You may feel exhausted all or much of the time.

  2. You may have problems sleeping. Or you may wake up feeling tired or not rested.

  3. It may be harder for you to think clearly, to concentrate, and to remember things.

  4. You may also have headaches, muscle and joint pain, a sore throat, and tender glands in your neck or armpits.

  5. Your symptoms may flare up after a mental or physical activity that used to be no problem for you. You may feel drained or exhausted. Depression is common with CFS, and it can make your other symptoms worse.

Image courtesy of ambro /”

Wang and his colleagues therefore decided to do a study.  The abstract of this study can be found “here“.

Acupuncture and Moxibustion for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.

What’s a meta analysis?  Basically it’s the scientists looking through various already published studies and trying to see if the data fits together.  In theory it’s like citing a whole bunch of studies at once.

Here is their procedure:

We comprehensively reviewed literature including PubMed, EMBASE, Cochrane library, CBM (Chinese Biomedical Literature Database) and CNKI (China National Knowledge Infrastructure) up to May 2016, for RCT clinical research on CFS treated by acupuncture and moxibustion. Traditional direct meta-analysis was adopted to analyze the difference between AM and other treatments. Analysis was performed based on the treatment in experiment and control groups. Network meta-analysis was adopted to make comprehensive comparisons between any two kinds of treatments. The primary outcome was total effective rate, while relative risks (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were used as the final pooled statistics.

What this means is that they looked at studies not just from China, but from all over the world.  In particular PubMed and the Cochrane library are personal favorites of mine.  Basically the studies they looked at were those that compared experimental and control groups.  This means they didn’t just put a needle in and saw if it worked.  They compared people getting real treatment with those getting fake treatment.

And here is the stated results:

A total of 31 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were enrolled in analyses. In traditional direct meta-analysis, we found that in comparison to Chinese herbal medicine, CbAM (combined acupuncture and moxibustion, which meant two or more types of acupuncture and moxibustion were adopted) had a higher total effective rate (RR (95% CI), 1.17 (1.09 ~ 1.25)). Compared with Chinese herbal medicine, western medicine and sham-acupuncture, SAM (single acupuncture or single moxibustion) had a higher total effective rate, with RR (95% CI) of 1.22 (1.14 ~ 1.30), 1.51 (1.31-1.74), 5.90 (3.64-9.56). In addition, compared with SAM, CbAM had a higher total effective rate (RR (95% CI), 1.23 (1.12 ~ 1.36)). In network meta-analyses, similar results were recorded. Subsequently, we ranked all treatments from high to low effective rate and the order was CbAM, SAM, Chinese herbal medicine, western medicine and sham-acupuncture.

In plain english, Acupuncture and Moxibustion together OR acupuncture or moxibustion alone worked better than Chinese herbs alone, which was better than western treatment alone, which was better than fake acupuncture.


Wang, T., et al. “Acupuncture and Moxibustion for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” BMC Complent Altern Med 17.1 (2017): pag 163. Pubmed. Web. 2 Apr. 2017.

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