Cancer patients who take high doses of ginseng feel significantly lower levels of fatigue, new research shows.
The study, by Mayo Clinic scientists, suggests a new approach to boost energy levels of cancer patients by using the herbal remedy long used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Researchers, led by Dr. Debra Barton, noted debilitating fatigue occurs in up to 90 percent of cancer patients and has been linked to greater stress and inflammation, which can compromise treatment and recovery. Ginseng's active ingredients, called ginsenosides, have been shown in animal studies to reduce inflammation and help regulate stress-hormone levels.
"Cancer is a prolonged chronic stress experience and the effects can last 10 years beyond diagnosis and treatment," said Barton, of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. "If we can help the body be better modulated throughout treatment with the use of ginseng, we may be able to prevent severe long-term fatigue."
For the study, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting, the Mayo team tracked 340 cancer patients – 60 percent of whom had breast cancer -- at 40 community medical centers. Each day, participants received an inactive placebo or 2,000 milligrams of ginseng administered in capsules containing pure, ground American ginseng root.
After two months, cancer patients taking ginseng reported significant improvement in general exhaustion — feelings of being "pooped," "worn out," "fatigued," "sluggish," "run-down," or "tired" — compared to the placebo group.
"After eight weeks, we saw a 20-point improvement in fatigue in cancer patients, measured on a 100-point, standardized fatigue scale," Barton said, noting the herb had no apparent side effects.
The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.