(The New York Times Health) Known for its bitter taste and potent effects, ginseng has for ages had a reputation as a natural energy booster.
Now there is some evidence that ginseng’s claim to fight fatigue may be deserved. In a small number of independent studies, researchers have found that ginseng extracts seem to help combat cancer-related fatigue, one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy and other treatments. The fatigue can be so severe that patients often call it paralyzing, and there are few options for alleviating it.
In a randomized double-blind study with 290 cancer patients at the Mayo Clinic in 2010, more than twice as many patients taking 1,000 or 2,000 milligrams of ginseng a day reported less fatigue and more energy after eight weeks compared with those given a placebo. In another large study, presented this month to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the same researchers found that cancer patients given 1,000 milligrams of ginseng twice a day for two weeks saw significant improvements in fatigue compared with a placebo group; the effect on nausea was similar in both groups.
Other studies suggest that ginseng may be able to relieve moderate fatigue in people without cancer, too. But scientists say more research on ginseng’s long-term safety is needed.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Evidence suggests that ginseng may help fight fatigue, but whether there are long-term side effects is not clear.