Scientists, who published their findings in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, said they found that cancer patients and survivors who felt fatigued or sluggish from treatments said they felt noticeably better following two months' worth of supplementation with ginseng.
"Nearly all patients with cancer can suffer from fatigue at some point; either at diagnosis, during treatment and even after treatment, and (fatigue) can linger for several years," lead author Debra Barton, from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said.
Just trust the results
"The issue with cancer-related fatigue is that it can be a profound fatigue that is not relieved by sleep or rest and that it can significantly impact the ability of people to accomplish the things they are used to doing every day," Barton later told Reuters Health.
Researchers added that ginseng had been delivering promising results for fatigue in earlier studies also. Reuters Health reported:
Tired cancer patients and survivors often turn to that and other dietary supplements such as Coenzyme Q-10, L-Carnitine and guarana, but not all are supported by evidence.
To look more closely at the effects of ginseng, Barton and her coauthors split 364 people with cancer-related fatigue into two groups. People in one group took 2,000 milligrams of Wisconsin ginseng daily for eight weeks; those in the other group took placebo capsules.
Researchers said that participants reported they were experiencing fatigue on a specialized questionnaire. Scientists then weighted their answers on a 100-point scale - higher scores indicated feelings of having more energy. Both groups involved began with a "40" average score.
Eight weeks later, however, the group taking ginseng reported a 20-point increase in their score, on average, compared to just a 10-point increase for the group given a placebo. That is more than enough to notice change in daily life, per the scale.
Researchers said 364 people enrolled in the study at the outset, but 80 dropped it before the end of the eight-week mark. Still, dropout rates were similar in each group, so the results are not really affected, Barton noted.
In addition, side effects of cancer treatment - nausea, vomiting, anxiety - were no more common among those taking ginseng.
"Ginseng is interesting because it acts on inflammation, and we think inflammation explains cancer-related fatigue," Catherine Alfano, deputy director of the office of cancer survivorship at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., told Reuters Health.
Know what you're buying
She added that while the results of the study showed promise, they were not enough to recommend that doctors suggest ginseng supplementation to their cancer patients - because that, see, would clash with the government's "cancer industry first" treatment regimen, and the NCI is one of the government's National Institutes of Health, according to its website. So let the results speak for themselves.
Moreover, ginseng is so very affordable: According to researchers, a bottle of 100 capsules containing 500 mg of Wisconsin ginseng only costs about ten bucks at a local drug or grocery store. Just be sure you know what you're getting.
"There may be ginseng available in the local stores that is very different from what this study used, and some that is quite similar," Barton said. "There are different types of ginseng, different strengths (doses) and since it is a plant, (it) has to be grown, picked, processed and manufactured to get from field to store."