Are There Alternative Treatments for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on December 13, 2020

There are lots of alternative treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome – also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS) or Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease (SEID). These range from acupuncture to nutritional supplements, and people get different degrees of relief from them.

There’s much less research about the risks and benefits from alternative treatments. That doesn’t necessarily mean that these approaches don’t work. It just means that there isn’t a lot of evidence one way or the other. But they help some people and are generally safe to try.

Just like with any other type of treatment, it’s best to talk with your doctor first, so they know all the strategies you’re trying. They can help you research what could work and watch out for any side effects.

Mind-Body Healing


Your doctor or health care provider might recommend that you try acupuncture, gentle massage, deep breathing, relaxation therapy, yoga or tai chi. The goal is to boost your energy, curb pain, or ease some of your other symptoms.

Some studies show that acupuncture could reduce both mental and physical fatigue and depression in people who have ME/CFS. Researchers have done some experiments where researchers compare one treatment to another or to no treatment at all. They found that certain types of massage, including tui na (a type of Chinese massage) might help with some symptoms like depression, fatigue, pain, and insomnia.

"Mindfulness-based" stress reduction, which combines deep breathing and meditation, could help reduce anxiety and other symptoms and improve quality of life in general, according to a few studies.

Talk Therapy

Several studies have found that a particular kind of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might reduce your symptoms. It can also help with the depression, stress, and anxiety that often go along with chronic fatigue syndrome. However, the largest study—one that appeared to show a benefit—has recently come under serious criticism. So the jury is still out: CBT may help some people with chronic fatigue syndrome, but that has been proven.

Physical Therapy

Some research has shown that graded exercise therapy can help reduce symptoms of ME/CFE and improve stamina. This is a form of physical therapy that starts out with very little exercise and slowly adds more over time. The goal is to stop before you get tired, then go a little longer each time.

Again, however, the largest study finding a benefit from graded exercise therapy has come under serious criticism.  And some people with chronic fatigue syndrome feel much worse following exercise (the “post-exertional malaise” that is a part of the illness.  So the role of exercise in this illness is uncertain.

Herbal and Nutritional Supplements

If you want to try a supplement, always talk about it with your doctor first. They can check to see if it has side effects. Some studies have found that supplements of NADH, magnesium or of omega-3 fatty acids (like fish oil) may benefit patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.

WebMD Medical Reference



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