ginseng root

Mixing alternative remedies such as herbs with prescription drugs for treating serious problems such as cancer can be risky. It is always a good idea to check with the oncology team to see if they know of any interactions or contra-indications. Sometimes this information is difficult to find.

Q. My doctor has suggested a Wisconsin ginseng supplement for energy. I am a cancer patient and would like to know if you are aware of any negative effects. Any information you have would be very appreciated.


Ginseng for Fatigue

A. A small study (30 patients) conducted at MD Anderson Cancer Center found that a high-dose ginseng supplement was effective in reducing cancer-related fatigue (Integrative Cancer Therapies, online April 14, 2015).

A previous double-blind trial had also found that Wisconsin ginseng can ease fatigue due to cancer (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Aug. 21, 2013).

Is Ginseng Safe?

Ginseng appears to have protective effects in most cancer studies, and its safety record is impressive.


In rare cases people become sensitive to this plant product and break out in a rash. If that happens to you, stop taking the supplement immediately.


The other caution we offer is that ginseng may be incompatible with warfarin (Expert Opinion on Drug Metabolism & Toxicology, Mar. 2014).  You can read more about ginseng in our herb library.

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  1. Emily

    I’m a Chinese medicine practitioner and herbalist. Ginseng is not for everyone. Also there are many different kinds of ginseng and they have different properties and actions. American ginseng (from WI) is cool in nature than Chinese ginseng, which is warm in nature, Korean ginseng is even warmer than Chinese ginseng if it is prepared. All three are great herbs, but they have different properties that are not suitable to every condition. Herbs are very specific to human physiology, and they are like a lock and key mechanism. The condition has to match the herb. Even patients who have cancer can have several different patterns in Chinese medicine.

    Ginseng has side effects for many people, that includes indigestion for some. Glycyrrhizin, from licorice, can raise blood pressure. This doesn’t mean that herbs are bad. For some people, those with hypoglycemia and hypotension, glycyrrhizin can be a good thing.

    While MDs have a lot of training in their respective fields, none of them are trained in the use or properties of herbs and do not possess any more knowledge on the herbs they are doling out than their patients. Good MDs are at least aware of herb/drug interactions and side effects, but I have found many MDs giving patients herbs and drugs that have interactions.

    One MD I went to gave me artemisia (wormwood) and flucanazole (diflucan). After I found in my herbal text some research that showed that wormwood lowers diflucan’s effectiveness and had significant interactions, I emailed that page from my textbook to her. She ignored my email and continued writing that up those prescriptions in my next visit. I found more data and sent it to her and I found out later that she was busy and had no time to read it.

    The one major drug interaction is with warfarin, coumadin and other sulfa drugs. If you are on any of those medications and your MD gives you herbs, get a second opinion.

  2. Sharon

    I took gingseng almost 20 years ago, primarily as an energy supplement.
    I began having daily severe chest and \or indigestion pains (but did not make a connection to the gingseng.) I thought it was my heart – went to cardiologist, no heart problems. Then my doc thought it might be a gall bladder issue – no problems there either. I was at my wit’s end – hardly eating anything for fear that it would cause these excruciating pains.
    Then, we saw a brief article on the sports page of our newspaper that said:
    “Just 24 hours after sitting out practice because of chest pains, Nick Van excel started and played 20 minutes in the Lakers’ 105-96 victory over the Nuggets. ..What Van Excel is really suffering from has been diagnosed as indigestion, a common side effect of the Chinese herb known as gingseng.”
    I immediately stopped taking the gingseng and within a couple of days that severe indigestion/chest pain was gone – never to return!

  3. cpmt

    Immunology, and foods high in vitamin C, black currants, blueberries, turkeytail mushrooms etc… foods high in antioxidants, can help too, I think.

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