© 2005-2012 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). All rights reserved worldwide.
June 2, 2007
A pilot study shows that the herb ginseng may decrease fatigue (extreme tiredness) in people with cancer.
"Fatigue is a major complaint for many people with cancer and can greatly affect their quality of life," said Debra Barton, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and the study's lead author. "Identifying options to effectively treat this serious side effect is an important research priority."
Ginseng is often used by people with cancer to increase energy and reduce fatigue. However, its effectiveness for these uses has not been rigorously tested in people with cancer. This study used Wisconsin ginseng from a single crop. It was tested to verify that it had a consistent concentration of the active chemical compounds in ginseng. The ginseng was powdered and given to patients as a capsule.
This study evaluated 282 people with various types of cancer for eight weeks who were either undergoing active treatment (chemotherapy or radiation therapy) or had recently completed treatment, had a life expectancy of at least six months, and had experienced fatigue for at least the past month. The participants were assigned to one of four groups: placebo (no ginseng), 750 milligrams (mg) of ginseng per day, 1,000 mg of ginseng per day, and 2,000 mg of ginseng per day.
Participants were surveyed about their levels of fatigue at the beginning of the study, at four weeks, and at eight weeks. Fatigue was measured in a number of different ways to capture the different aspects of the patient's fatigue. Participants taking the 1,000 mg and 2,000 mg amounts of ginseng reported lower fatigue levels, compared with those taking the placebo and 750 mg amounts of ginseng. In addition, 25% of people taking 1,000 mg of ginseng and 27% of patients taking 2,000 mg of ginseng reported that their fatigue levels were "moderately better" or "much better," compared with 10% of patients taking 750 mg of ginseng and 10% of patients taking the placebo.
What This Means for Patients
This study supports the idea that ginseng can improve fatigue. However, this was a small study and it did not differentiate between fatigue caused by cancer treatment and the cancer itself.
"While the results of this study are very promising, further studies are needed to determine the definitive benefit, and we cannot recommend routine use of ginseng for fatigue in cancer patients at this time," Dr. Barton said. "Because this was a pilot study, we cannot be certain that ginseng really lowers fatigue, and if it does, what dose works best. Further study will also help us determine which patients are most likely to benefit." Because dietary supplements are not regulated, the quality, consistency, and safety of store-bought ginseng supplements are not reliable, added Dr. Barton.