Ginseng has been shown to be an effective and safe, natural supplement for helping manage the fatigue associated with cancer treatment.
A randomized controlled study found that taking 2,000 mg per day of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius: containing 3% of the active ginsenosides) significantly improved fatigue symptoms in cancer patients compared with placebo. Patients who took the ginseng during chemotherapy or radiation therapy actually had more fatigue relief than those who took the ginseng after completing treatment.
Importantly, there were no significant differences in side effects between those taking the placebo or ginseng.
Although the studies were not done in human, the authors noted that preclinical studies have reported that ginseng does not appear to reduce the cancer killing activity of tamoxifen, doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, paclitaxel, 5-fluorouracil, or methotrexate. Future studies in humans need to be done to confirm these promising results.
* *Warning* *
American ginseng interacts with the blood thinner warfarin. If you are on warfarin (also called coumadin), you should avoid American ginseng.
How Does Ginseng Reduce Fatigue?
The mechanism by which American ginseng works to reduce cancer treatment-related fatigue is not well understood, but some studies indicate that ginseng reduces systemic inflammation and stress-induced cortisol production; both key factors involved in cancer treatment-related fatigue.
Is Ginseng Estrogenic?
Many botanical compounds have estrogen receptor stimulating activity (estrogenic.) This is a concern for patients with estrogen-sensitive cancers. Regarding ginseng, the authors noted that “…there have been contradictory reports of ginseng’s ability to proliferate breast cancer cells as well as the thought that it might be estrogenic. Preclinical research sheds insight into this contradiction. Characteristics and properties of ginsenosides depend on the processing; certain extraction methods can result in estrogenic properties. Specifically, ginseng derived from methanol extraction, as opposed to water extraction, does exhibit estrogenic properties and has been found to proliferate cancer cells in breast cell lines in vitro. Ginseng products not derived from methanol extraction methods, but instead from water extraction or pure ground root, do not have estrogenic properties. In fact, preclinical data have demonstrated breast cancer cell inhibition by water-extracted American ginseng in both estrogen-sensitive and -insensitive cell lines.”
Take 1,000 mg in the morning and 1,000 mg in the afternoon (2,000 mg per day.) It is best to take American Ginseng with food. American Ginseng is different than Korean and Chinese Ginseng, so they should not be substituted.
Where Can You Buy It?
You can buy high-quality, American Ginseng (from Wisconsin) here.
P.S. I make no commission from this recommendation.
Tieraona Low Dog, MD, one of my favorite, trusted herbal experts recently wrote about this study, saying “This may be one herb that people undergoing cancer therapy should discuss with their oncologist to see if it is appropriate for them to try. Remember, quality is everything when it comes to herbal remedies.”
I complete agree with Dr. Low Dog. For patients suffering with cancer related fatigue, taking ginseng is certainly worth trying. As always, whenever considering taking a supplement, discuss this with your doctors first. Importantly, please keep in mind that there may be other causes of fatigue that need to be addressed in patients with cancer (i.e. anemia, electrolyte abnormalities, cardiac conditions, etc.)