Ancient Chinese Remedy Fights Cancer Fatigue

Ginseng may give cancer warriors more energy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Tell someone they have cancer, perform surgery, give them chemotherapy and/or radiation, and their body will be worn out. Literally. A Chinese herb that's been used for thousands of years may make a big difference.

A study conducted at the Mayo Clinic illustrated that people living with cancer had more energy and less fatigue after taking high doses of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) for 60 days.

"Ask your oncologist about American ginseng."

The fatigue during and following cancer treatment can be debilitating for some, and the problem can linger for years.

Researchers, led by Debra Barton, PhD of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, worked with 340 people who were either currently being treated or had just finished treatments for cancer. About 60 percent of the participants had breast cancer.

Each participant took either a placebo or 2,000 milligram capsules of American ginseng root every day for two months.

Barton notes that purity matters."Off-the-shelf ginseng is sometimes processed using ethanol, which can give it estrogen-like properties that may be harmful to breast cancer patients."

At four weeks, not much happened, but after eight weeks, the ginseng takers felt a great deal better and were far less exhausted than the group who received a sugar pill.

"After eight weeks, we saw a 20-point improvement in fatigue in cancer patients, measured on a 100-point, standardized fatigue scale," according to Dr. Barton, who says the herb didn't create any negative side effects.

Diane Shiao, PT, MSPT, DPT, a physical therapist and Chinese Medicine practitioner, told dailyRx in an email, "In Traditional Chinese Medicine practices, ginseng is used to boost Qi or life energy. It's also used for promoting endurance and generating fluid flow in the body," said Shiao.

"Now, research is backing up what the Chinese had been using for thousands of years. As our ancestors discovered, herbs are very effective if utilized properly."

Fatigue in people living with the cancer story is linked to two things - the increase in the immune system's response to inflammation and messed up levels of cortisol, the hormone that accompanies stress.

"Cancer is a prolonged chronic stress experience and the effects can last 10 years beyond diagnosis and treatment," Barton said. "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."

Findings from this study were presented at the 48th American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting. Before publication in a peer-review journal, research is considered preliminary.

This research was funded by the National Cancer Institute and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. No conflicts of interest were disclosed. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 5, 2012
Last Updated:
June 5, 2012