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Cancer Health Center

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Ginseng Relieves Cancer-Related Fatigue

People Taking Ginseng Feel Less Tired, Worn Out
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 5, 2012 (Chicago) -- Ginseng appears to help relieve the fatigue experienced by 90% of people with cancer, according to a study that pitted ginseng capsules against placebo.

Researchers studied 360 people with fatigue who had completed cancer treatment or were being treated for cancer. More than half had breast cancer.

Half took a placebo and the other half took capsules containing 2,000 milligrams of pure, ground, American ginseng root daily.

At the start of the study, everyone was asked to rate how fatigued they felt on a 100-point scale; the average score was about 55 points.

Four weeks into the study, there was not a big difference in scores between the two groups. But by eight weeks, fatigue scores improved by 20 points in the ginseng group vs. only 10 points in the placebo group.

"People taking ginseng reported feeling less pooped, worn out, and sluggish than those taking placebo," says researcher Debra Barton, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center in Rochester, Minn.

Ginseng appeared to be as safe as placebo, at least over the eight-week period, she tells WebMD.

Based on the findings, "I would recommend ginseng for patients with cancer-related fatigue," Barton says.

One caveat: Since supplements are not regulated like drugs by the government, you can't always be sure of the purity of a product. So make sure you buy from a reputable company whose labels you can trust, she says.

That's especially important with ginseng because it is sometimes processed using ethanol, which can give it estrogen-like properties that actually stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells, Barton says.

"The label should read that it is pure ground root of ginseng as opposed to an extraction," Barton says.

The findings were reported here at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting.

More Study Needed

Sriram Yennu MD, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, says further and longer study is still needed to confirm ginseng's safety for people with cancer.

"We can tell patients it is safe to use for eight weeks and may benefit. But no one should self-prescribe [the herbal supplement] at this point," he tells WebMD.

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