Ginseng Relieves Cancer-Related Fatigue
People Taking Ginseng Feel Less Tired, Worn Out
More Study Needed continued...
Still, the findings are "exciting because there are no or limited choices" for treating cancer-related fatigue, Yennu says.
Exercise is the only intervention that has been shown to help relieve the fatigue, Barton says. "But people with cancer often don't have the energy to exercise," she points out.
Yennu estimates that about 80% of people with cancer take some form of complementary medicine, and says that ginseng is among the more popular supplements.
In traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng is seen as a natural energy-booster that "helps the body deal with physical stress and balance things out," Barton says.
Experiments in the lab and in animals suggest it works as an anti-inflammatory or by controlling levels of stress hormones that the body makes when under physical or psychological stress, she says.
The new study builds on previous work at the Mayo Clinic that showed that about one-fourth of people with cancer-related fatigue said they felt "moderately better" or "much better" after taking 1,000-milligram or 2,000-milligram ginseng tablets, compared with 10% taking placebo pills.
People in the current study took the 2,000 milligrams of ground Wisconsin ginseng root as two capsules separately before noon. Barton plans to test higher doses for relieving fatigue even more quickly.
The most common side effects over eight weeks of treatment were nausea, experienced by 5% of people taking ginseng and 4% on placebo group. About 4% on ginseng reported loose stool vs. 3% on placebo.
Serious side effects that typically require hospitalization affected similar numbers of people in both groups: 8% on ginseng and 6% on placebo, a difference so small it could be due to chance. Serious side effects included dizziness and low blood cell counts.
Barton says a month-supply of 2,000-milligram capsules costs about $30.
Len Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, cautions that anyone with cancer taking any type of supplements should be sure to tell their doctors.
"Some can interfere with the cancer treatment," Lichtenfeld says.
These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.