Tapping into energy for a cure

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2011, 12:00am


No one has yet found a cure for chronic fatigue syndrome. But some Hong Kong researchers think they have the answer: qi or the energy that flows through our body.

Qigong is an ancient Chinese discipline combining breathing exercises with meditation to enhance the flow of qi. Researchers at the Centre on Behavioural Health at the University of Hong Kong are hoping it will help treat the syndrome, which includes anxiety, muscle and throat pain, and extreme tiredness. 'Chronic fatigue syndrome has not only physical but also psychological and social causes,' said Dr Ng Siu-man, the centre's associate director.

In a city where people work on average 50 hours a week, and more than 80 per cent suffer from stress - according to a 2008 study from HKU/CSR Asia - the condition may have consequences on people's productivity, health, and on the city's economic performance.

There is no definite treatment known for the syndrome. But according to Ng, the problem is very common. In 2004, a study conducted by the university's School of Chinese Medicine showed that 6.4 per cent of 1,013 participants, between 20 and 50 years old and working, met the diagnosis criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome.

From the standpoint of traditional Chinese medicine, the illness is caused by poor circulation of the energy flow (qi) within the body, and treatments should stimulate blood and qi circulations.

As a result, for twice a week starting September 1, participants in a study will be asked to practise baduanjin qigong, a dynamic approach looking to align breath with mental concentration and body energy. 'We chose baduanjin qigong because it is not only about exercising, but also about improving your mental health,' said Ng. It is also the most common form used as exercise. Blood and saliva samples will also be collected.

Last year the centre conducted a preliminary survey on the syndrome by using Tao Yin, a similar but more demanding exercise than baduanjin qigong. Even though the effects on symptoms were considered remarkable, with a significant drop in fatigue levels, Tao Yin was not used this year because it is more difficult to practise.

'We believe that the Chinese approach to chronic fatigue syndrome can be more efficient than the Western approach,' said Ng. 'The Western approach is more symptomatic: you are in pain, you take a painkiller. Work-life balance is a big problem here. People work too much and devote so little time to leisure activities and sport.'

Professor Albert Lee, director at the Centre for Health Education and Promotion at Chinese University, said: 'The Western approach to chronic fatigue syndrome is to prescribe some rest, some exercise and a healthier lifestyle.'

He said that since there was no particular agent that caused the syndrome, other alternative approaches were worth looking into.

'Even though it is not easy to diagnose, I am sure that if we look more into it in Hong Kong, the percentage of people with chronic fatigue syndrome would be pretty substantial.'

Recruitment for the study started yesterday and will last until Monday. The study needs 150 people, aged 20 to 50, with symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.


The number of people estimated to be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome in the US. Symptoms can include fatigue for six months or more, and there is no cure