Ginseng has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine as a natural energy booster. Until this study, where it is utilized against the debilitating fatigue that occurs in up to 90 per cent of cancer patients.
Ginseng helps long-term cancer patients fight off the tiredness caused by the condition.
Fatigue in cancer patients has been linked to an increase in the immune system’s inflammatory cytokines as well as poorly regulated levels of the stress-hormone cortisol.
Ginseng’s active ingredients, called ginsenosides, have been shown in animal studies to reduce cytokines related to inflammation and help regulate cortisol levels.
In a study of 340 patients who had completed cancer treatment or were being treated for cancer at one of 40 community medical centers.
Sixty per cent of the patients studied had breast cancer.
Each day, those taking part received a placebo or 2,000 milligrams of ginseng administered in capsules containing pure, ground American ginseng root.
Researcher Doctor Debra Barton, of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Centre in the United States, said: ‘Off-the-shelf ginseng is sometimes processed using ethanol, which can give it oestrogen-like properties that may be harmful to breast cancer patients.’
At four weeks, the pure ginseng provided only a slight improvement in fatigue symptoms.
However, at eight weeks, ginseng offered cancer patients significant improvement in general exhaustion, feelings of being ‘worn out,’ ‘fatigued,’ ‘sluggish,’ ‘run-down,’ or ‘tired’ – compared to the placebo group.
Dr. Barton said: ‘After eight weeks, we saw a 20-point improvement in fatigue in cancer patients, measured on a 100-point, standardized fatigue scale.’
And she said the herb had no apparent side effects.
The findings were due to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting.
Dr. Barton’s next study is to look closely at ginseng’s effects on the specific biomarkers for fatigue.
She added: ‘Cancer is a prolonged chronic stress experience and the effects can last 10 years beyond diagnosis and treatment.
‘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.’