Fatigue…It may well be the most common medical complaint of the modern world. We have all experienced it to varying degrees. However, it is an even more widespread and difficult problem for cancer patients. Not only is the fatigue associated with cancer particularly severe, it is also difficult, if not impossible to treat. Is it possible, that Panax quinquefolius (American Ginseng) an herbal remedy used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, could be an effective treatment for cancer-related fatigue? Results of a recent study were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago in June, 2012. The results of this study suggest that high doses of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) help reduce some of the fatigue experienced by up to 90 percent of people with cancer.
For the study, doctors administered capsules containing 2,000 milligrams of American ginseng or a placebo daily for two months to 340 patients who were undergoing or had recently completed treatment for cancer.
The results? While little improvement was seen at four weeks, those who received the ginseng capsules had less general and physical fatigue than the placebo group by the end of the study. After the full 8 weeks, the researchers noted a 20-point improvement in fatigue in the cancer patients, as measured on a 100-point, standardized fatigue scale. No difference in self-reported side effects was observed between the two groups.
So what is it about Panax quinquefolius that makes it so effective against cancer-related fatigue? The answer may lie in some compounds in ginseng known as ginsenosides. These compounds help regulate cortisol, a hormone released during stress. Because cancer is a very stressful experience, it naturally follows that cancer patients would produce higher-than-normal levels of this hormone. Ginsenosides also reduce cytokines, which are involved in inflammation.
Future research will examine the effect of ginseng on fatigue-related biomarkers.