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August 2013

Ginseng May Improve Cancer-Related Fatigue

Supplementing with American ginseng daily for eight weeks may help improve fatigue in people with cancer, according to a study.

The term ginseng refers to several species of the genus Panax of the Araliaceae family. The two most commonly used ginseng species are Asian ginseng and American ginseng. The word "ginseng" is derived from ren-shen, the Chinese word for the plant, which means "essence of the earth in the form of a man" or "man-root," referring to the root's human-like shape. Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. Its diverse uses include increasing appetite and strength, enhancing memory and physical performance, reducing fatigue and stress, and improving overall quality of life.

In the current study, researchers set out to determine the potential effects of ginseng on cancer-related fatigue (CRF). They enrolled 364 cancer survivors and randomly assigned them to receive either 2,000 milligrams of American ginseng or placebo daily for eight weeks. They looked at changes in the subjects' level of fatigue after four weeks and eight weeks of treatment.

The results showed a significant difference after eight weeks of treatment in the group that had been given ginseng. People in the ginseng group had greater improvement in symptoms over the course of the study, compared to those who had been given placebo. The researchers found that greater benefit was reported in those who were receiving active cancer treatment, compared to those who had already completed treatment.

The authors concluded that American ginseng may benefit CRF when taken as a dose of 2,000 milligrams daily over an eight-week period. Further research is needed in order to confirm and better understand the role of ginseng in this population.

Many integrative therapies have been evaluated for possible benefit in relieving fatigue and related conditions. Among those that have been studied are homeopathy, iron, melatonin and vitamin B12. More research is needed to support the use of these treatments for fatigue.

For more information about ginseng, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements Database.


  1. Barton DL, Liu H, Dakhil SR, et al. Wisconsin Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) to Improve Cancer-Related Fatigue: A Randomized, Double-Blind Trial, N07C2. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2013 Jul 13. [Epub ahead of print] 
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 

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