I recently received an email from a colleague asking for help with a patient suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. The colleague was asking about the treatment principle to apply. The patient obviously suffered from a deficiency of Zheng Qi, as all patients with chronic fatigue syndrome do. But she also had frequent acute invasions of Wind.

The colleague was rightly following the principle that, in the presence of an acute invasion of Wind, one must expel pathogenic factors, in this case expelling Wind, and not tonify Zheng Qi. In between invasions of Wind, the correct treatment principle is to tonify Zheng Qi, and this is what the colleague was doing.

However, the problem was that the patient suffered from very frequent invasions of Wind, so that there was hardly any time to tonify Zheng Qi for a prolonged time. She was using Yin Qiao San during the acute invasions of Wind and a Qi tonic to tonify Zheng Qi in between the acute attacks.

She wrote to me to ask whether taking a Qi tonic during an acute invasion of Wind could strengthen the pathogen. She was also wondering whether one can go on taking Yin Qiao San for prolonged periods as the patient had times when she went from one acute illness to the next, so she could be taking Yin Qiao San for weeks, and my colleague was wondering whether this could deplete her Qi or Yin.

Her second question was whether taking a Qi tonic during an acute invasion of Wind could strengthen the pathogen.

I will try and answer here her questions.

1) Can one take a remedy that expels exterior Wind for prolonged periods?

The answer is basically: “no”. Remedies that expel exterior Wind (such as Yin Qiao San) by definition should be taken only during an acute invasion of Wind for a few days. After a few days or a week, either the exterior Wind has been expelled or the pathogenic factor has penetrated into the Interior at which time the patient needs a different treatment.

However, chronic fatigue syndrome presents a different situation and one that is not contemplated in Chinese books. I have never seen a discussion of chronic fatigue syndrome in any Chinese book: indeed, a Chinese journal years ago published a translation of an article I wrote on chronic fatigue syndrome.

In my experience, chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by a prolonged course of the disease with a deficiency of Zheng Qi and frequent invasions of exterior Wind. However, the exterior pathogen in such patients is “weak” and it is weak precisely because of the prolonged course of the disease and the prolonged deficiency of Zheng Qi.

So, in such cases, the patient may need to take a remedy that expels exterior Wind frequently, e.g. for a week every few weeks or so. However, because the pathogen is weak, one can use a small dose such as for example only three tablets of Expel Wind-Heat a day.

2) Can tonifying the Zheng Qi also tonify an exterior pathogen?

Again, in theory “yes”. However, again, chronic fatigue syndrome is an exception. As the deficiency of Zheng Qi is very prolonged and the pathogen “weak”, during invasions of exterior Wind in chronic fatigue syndrome, I do occasionally combine expelling exterior Wind with Yin Qiao San with a Qi tonic, both in small doses. For example, I might use 3 tablets of Qi tonic in the morning and 3 tablets of Yin Qiao San in the evening.

For a discussion of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome see chapter 41 of my book The Practice of Chinese Medicine, 2nd Edition.