Washington: Ginseng, which has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine as a natural energy booster, helps long-term cancer patients fight off the tiredness caused by the condition, according to a new study.

Researchers found that high doses of the herb American ginseng over two months reduced cancer-related tiredness in patients more effectively than a placebo.

They studied 340 patients who had completed cancer treatment or were being treated for cancer at one of the 40 community medical centres. 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.

"Off-the-shelf ginseng is sometimes processed using ethanol, which can give it oestrogen-like properties that may be harmful to breast cancer patients", the researcher Doctor Debra Barton, of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Centre in the United States, was quoted as saying.

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.

"After eight weeks, we saw a 20-point improvement in fatigue in cancer patients, measured on a 100-point, standardized fatigue scale," Dr Barton said. And she said the herb had no apparent side effects.

Until this study, ginseng's effects had not been tested extensively against the debilitating fatigue that occurs in up to 90 per cent of cancer patients.

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. Dr Barton will next look closely at ginseng's effects on the specific biomarkers for fatigue.


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