Cancer patients and survivors who took ginseng supplements for two months felt noticeable relief from fatigue, according to the results of a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of cancer and its treatment. There are many factors that contribute to fatigue, such as anemia, poor nutrition, inadequate rest, infection, stress, and others. Fatigue is a general tiredness or an overwhelming lack of energy, but cancer-related fatigue is more than mere tiredness. This profound fatigue cannot be relieved by sleep or rest and can be debilitating. It can last for months or even years—persisting long after treatment is finished.
Because cancer-related fatigue has such a profound impact on quality of life, researchers continue to look for ways to help patients manage this side effect. Ginseng has shown promise in earlier studies. To evaluate its benefit, researchers conducted a randomized, double-blind study that included 364 people with cancer-related fatigue. Participants were randomly assigned to receive 2,000 milligrams of ginseng or placebo for eight weeks.
Throughout the study, participants reported their fatigue on a special questionnaire and researchers noted scores at baseline, four weeks, and eight weeks. After eight weeks, participants in the ginseng group reported a 20-point score increase, on average, compared with a 10-point improvement in the placebo group. Patients who were receiving active cancer treatment appeared to reap greater benefits from the ginseng than those who had completed treatment. Side effects (such as nausea, vomiting, and anxiety) did not differ significantly between the two groups.
The researchers concluded that 2,000 mg daily of American ginseng appears to relieve cancer-related fatigue. Although the results are promising, patients and survivors should use caution with any type of supplement—and always consult their physician first. Ginseng appears to be beneficial, but research will be ongoing to determine its safety and efficacy. In the meantime, exercise has been shown to be one of the safest and most effective ways to relieve cancer-related fatigue.
Barton DL, Liu H, Dakhil SR, et al. Wisconsin Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) to improve cancer-related fatigue: A randomized, double-blind trial, N07C2. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Published early online July 13, 2013. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djt181