If you or a loved one has ever undergone chemotherapy, you’re aware of how difficult a battle it is. It leaves patients in pain and extremely fatigued both during and following treatments. The process is very hard on the body and it takes a serious toll. Unfortunately it’s an essential step in treating some cancers.
The treatment causes extreme fatigue in patients that can take months or even years to recover from. The fatigue also sets in and can be worse during treatment, making it very difficult for patients to feel good about themselves, be free of pain, or do little more than lie sedentary most of the day. This condition, known as chronic-related fatigue (CRF), cannot be fixed by sleeping or relaxation.
Traditionally, CRF is treated with pharmaceuticals and anti-depressants, anabolic steroids, corticosteroids, and other drugs. These drugs, however, can produce inconsistent results and sometimes offer little help to ease fatigue.
Since 2012, however, a natural alternative to these treatments has begun to garner some attention. Ginseng, the perennial plant, is shown to significantly increase energy levels in patients following chemotherapy.
A study that included patients from 40 hospitals showed the effectiveness of ginseng to treat CRF. Patients were either given a placebo or two 500 mg capsules of ginseng containing three-percent ginsenoside (ginsenosides are the most pharmacologically active compounds in ginseng). Patients were evaluated after four and eight weeks during the trial, and there were significant improvements to both increased energy levels and lowered fatigue. The ginseng treatment made patients feel noticeably better in the weeks and months following chemo.
In some studies, this natural alternative has been shown to be more effective than pharmaceuticals. The benefits ginseng offers are because of the botanicals contained within. These are thought to help in a variety of ways like maintaining skeletal muscle, regulating circadian rhythm (your sleep cycle), fighting inflammation, and other benefits. All of these things can reduce the strain on your body and limit fatigue while boosting energy.
Effective dosages are in the 1,000 – 2,000 mg range per day, with three to five percent ginsenoside. Always talk to your doctor before attempting new treatments, and wait for instruction. Further research is underway, exploring if ginseng treatment is safe to begin during chemotherapy. If it causes no negative reaction, it could be possible that it could be used to prevent pain and CRF during therapy when the symptoms are even worse.
Loschert A., “Ginseng as a Remedy for Chemo Fatigue,” Natural Medicine Journal web site, February 5, 2014; http://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/article_content.asp?edition=1§ion=3&article=484, last accessed February 12, 2014.
Leung, K., “Pharmacology of Ginsenosides,” Natural Products web site, 2013; http://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-3-642-22144-6_151, last accessed February 12, 2014.
“Fatigue,” National Cancer Institute web site, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/fatigue/HealthProfessional/page1, last accessed February 12, 2014.