Ginseng May Relieve Cancer Fatigue
Popular Supplement Also Appears to Boost Energy Levels
WebMD News Archive
June 4, 2007 (Chicago) -- The popular dietary supplement ginseng appears to
relieve fatigue and boost energy levels in people with cancer, preliminary
The researchers studied 282 people with breast, colon, and other types of
cancer. They were randomly assigned to take 750 milligrams, 1,000 milligrams,
or 2,000 milligrams of American ginseng or placebo daily for eight weeks.
About 25% of those on the two highest doses reported their fatigue was
“moderately or much better,” compared with only 10% of those taking lowest dose
or placebo. Also, energy levels were about twice as high in those taking the
1,000-milligram dose as those taking placebo.
People taking the two highest doses also reported generally feeling better,
with improvements in mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being. And
they said they were more satisfied with their treatment.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of
Cancer-Related Fatigue a Common Problem
More than 90% of people with cancer suffer from extreme lethargy and low
energy levels before, during, or after treatment, says researcher Debra Barton,
PhD, an associate professor of oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester,
“If the results are confirmed, our hope is that ginseng would help us to
improve their quality of life,” she tells WebMD.
The researchers tested the Wisconsin species of American ginseng, which is
different from Chinese ginseng and other forms of American ginseng sold in
health food stores. The ginseng was powdered and given in capsule form.
Wisconsin ginseng is available only through the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin,
which monitors quality, according to Barton.
The ginseng was derived from a single crop, which was tested to confirm a
uniform concentration of ginsenosides, the active compounds thought to offer
Barton says that’s important because unlike drugs, supplements are not
monitored by the FDA and can vary in consistency.
“You really don’t know what you’re getting,” she explains. “Some supplements
may contain little or none of the active ingredient on the label, while others
may have harmful contaminants.”
It is important to talk to your doctor about using supplements since there
could be interactions with other medications or treatment.
Exercise Still Only Proven Option for Cancer Fatigue
Bruce Cheson, MD, a cancer doctor at Georgetown University Hospital in
Washington, says that while promising, it is too soon to recommend ginseng to
people with cancer.
“We still don’t know whether it interferes with their cancer treatment,” he
Cheson says that patients often “pull out big bags of this stuff from their
bags and ask whether it will help me. Until we have more rigorous trials, we
can’t answer their question,” he says.
Barton recommends that until the findings are confirmed, people suffering
from cancer-related fatigue talk to their doctors about starting an exercise
program. “Currently, the only intervention we know that works is exercise,” she
She believes that ginseng confers its benefits by helping the body to
modulate the physiological stress associated with cancer and chemotherapy.
Her research team hopes to start a new trial next year, with the goal of
confirming the results in a larger number of people over a longer period of
- Undergoing cancer treatment? How do
you fight fatigue throughout? Talk about it on the WebMD Cancer Support