Background: Chronic fatigue greatly affects quality of life and is a common reason for consulting a physician. Since conventional therapy is often of limited help, fatigued patients may use herbal treatments. This randomized controlled trial evaluated the effectiveness of Siberian ginseng.
Method: Subjects were recruited from advertisements in Iowa (82%) and members of chronic fatigue syndrome support groups (18%). Potential subjects were required to have substantial fatigue > or = 6 months with no identifiable cause. The mean change in a fatigue measure was compared for placebo and Siberian ginseng at 1 and 2 months. Comparisons were for all subjects and for subjects with characteristics previously identified in the literature as important for categorizing chronic fatigue.
Results: Ninety-six subjects were randomized to treatment groups, and 76 provided information at 2 months of follow-up. Fatigue among subjects assigned to either placebo or Siberian ginseng was substantially reduced during the study, but differences between treatment groups were not statistically significant in the full sample. Fatigue severity and duration had a statistically significant interaction with response to Siberian ginseng at the P < 0.05 level. Treatment was effective at 2 months for 45 subjects with less severe fatigue (P = 0.04 unadjusted for multiple comparisons) and for 41 subjects with fatigue for > or = 5 years (P = 0.09 unadjusted for multiple comparisons).
Conclusion: Overall efficacy was not demonstrated. However, the findings of possible efficacy for patients with moderate fatigue suggests that further research may be of value.