Fatigue is a commonly reported side effect in about 90 percent of cancer patients that leaves patients feeling tired, sluggish and run down during and after treatment. Researchers at Mayo Clinic found ginseng root, a natural energy booster, may help alleviate cancer-related fatigue (CRF).
Researchers gave 340 cancer patients in treatment or who had completed treatment a high daily dose of 2,000 milligrams of pure, ground American ginseng root or a placebo.
After taking the herb treatment for four weeks, participants — 60 percent of whom were breast cancer patients — saw only a slight improvement in fatigue symptoms. But at eight weeks, they reported a 20 percent improvement in their energy levels without any apparent side effects, compared to the placebo group.
The study results are being presented at the 2012 American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting, June 1-5 in Chicago.
The study’s lead author, Debra Barton, Ph.D., an associate professor of oncology at the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center in Rochester, Minn., said the ginseng given to patients differs from many over-the-counter herbal supplements.
“Off-the-shelf ginseng is sometimes processed using ethanol, which can give it estrogen-like properties that may be harmful to breast cancer patients,” she said in a written statement.
Some dietary and herbal supplement can interfere with cancer treatments causing them not to work as well as they should, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Consumers should be aware that nutritional and herbal supplements are not regulated and therefore, some "natural" products may contain ingredients that are not on the label.
As a safety precaution, cancer patients should always report all supplements they are taking to their doctors.
Ginseng has long been a staple in traditional Chinese medicine, typically used as a natural energy booster. Until this study, its effects had not been tested extensively against the debilitating fatigue occurring in cancer patients, although Dr. Barton said it is one of the more scientifically studied herbs.