Fatigue: alternative approaches to palliative care

Fatigue: alternative approaches to palliative care 2016-11-19T00:35:41+00:00

Treating fatigue with complementary medicine.

On this page, we discuss the herbal supplements that have been effectively used to combat fatigue.  All the plants discussed below have demonstrated their effectiveness treating fatigue in published clinical trials. We have included links to this scientific literature throughout the page.

Why do cancer patients experience fatigue?

Often there are multiple reasons why a patient may experience fatigue. It is often difficult to pin-point one specific cause. We know that the following issues can contribute to fatigue:

  • infection
  • depression
  • thyroid disorder
  • insomnia
  • malnutrition
  • physical de-conditioning
  • anemia
  • chronic pain
  • electrolyte imbalance
  • dehydration
  • organ dysfunction

Some of these causes of fatigue can be identified and treated effectively.

However, most of the time, fatigue is multi-factorial. This means there are multiple reasons a patient will experience fatigue. When a symptom is caused by multiple factors, the symptom become more challenging to treat. This is part of the reason that conventional medicine has had limited success managing fatigue, particularly in regards to palliative cancer care.

Using herbs to treat fatigue in palliative care

Over the past decade, we have seen increasing interest in the clinical use of herbal products to relieve cancer related fatigue. Many of these herbs have a long history of use in traditional medicine.

Below are some examples of clinical research done on patients with cancer-related fatigue. Please note that this information is for educational purposes only.

Studies done specifically on cancer patients with fatigue:

American Ginseng (23853057)

Asian Ginseng (25873296)

Ashwaghanda (23142798)

Coriolus versicolor/Turkey Tail Mushroom (25784670)

Fucoidan (22866084)

Astragalus (27330356)

Ganoderma lucidum/Reishi Mushroom (22203880)

Chlorella (24799942)

12-herb Chinese medicine regimen Ren Shen Yangrong Tang (25918996)

10-herb Chinese medicine regimen Bojungikki-tang (21059621)

14-herb Chinese medicine regimen LCS101 (23400272)

Guarana (21612429)

Virgin coconut oil (25163649)

Mistletoe (25142075, 24766319)

Turmeric (21671126), for fatigue after surgery

Use caution when interpreting clinical trial results for fatigue.

  • Fatigue is a difficult symptom to measure. Symptoms are difficult to measure objectively. Fatigue symptoms reported by patients are subjective and are often considered less reproducible.
  • Clinical trials that are not randomized or blinded are highly vulnerable to bias, particularly within the field of fatigue research.
  • Small sample sizes are common in the clinical trials of herbal therapies.
  • The symptom of fatigue is difficult to isolate and study independently because it is often intertwined with other common cancer symptoms such as depression, insomnia, and emotional stress, so the clinical studies can be confounded by these factors
  • The potential herbal interaction with chemotherapy agents and prescription medicines is unknown, although clinically these herbal products seem to be safe in the trials.
  • Most clinical trials do not control for other factors that may affect patients’ fatigue level, such as exercise, sleep quality and stress level, during their research periods.

If you are considering using these herbs, please consult with your palliative care physician.

References

Palliative care disclaimer

Please keep in mind, these botanical therapies do not cure, prevent or treat any disease. These plants are only used to provide relief of the symptoms associated with the disease.

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