Exercise, not drugs, is the best relief for cancer fatigue

Anyone who’s ever had to go toe-to-toe in a fight with cancer knows what a huge drain it can be on your system.

After all, your body has two fights on its hands: one against cancer, and one against the side effects of all those treatments.

Inevitably, fatigue starts to set in. But this kind of fatigue is not just physical. It’s also emotional, often accompanied by depression and worrisome anxieties, so just getting more rest doesn’t seem to help.

This is the point where a desperate patient might beg their doctor for a solution. And many doctors are quick to respond by reaching for the Rx pad, ready to try out any number of stimulant drugs on you.

But Dr. Karen Mustian, of the University of Rochester Medical Center, has given that idea a big “thumbs down.” She says that resorting to drugs should be at the bottom of the list of ways to help cancer patients overcome fatigue!

And she knows what she’s talking about, having just authored a new study offering clear proof that cancer patients can beat their fatigue without risking a whole new batch of drug-related side effects.

The right tools for a tough job

In JAMA Oncology, Dr. Mustian writes that cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is “one of the most prevalent and troublesome adverse events experienced by patients with cancer during and after therapy.”

She might have added that CRF can also turn deadly.

That’s because this kind of fatigue is often accompanied by the development of cachexia, or as it’s more commonly known, “wasting” — a condition marked by a steady decline in vitality, diminished appetite, dramatic weight loss and muscle atrophy.

By one estimate, cachexia appears to be the primary cause of death in a large majority of cancer cases — not the cancer itself!

To give doctors the best tools they need to help cancer patients overcome CRF, Dr. Mustian and her University of Rochester team collected data from 113 clinical studies where more than 11,500 cancer patients received treatment for fatigue.

Treatments were sorted into four categories: drugs, exercise, psychological behavioral therapy, and a combination of exercise and psychological therapy.

The drugs used in these studies were some of the most potent available, including the stimulants modafinil — a “wakefulness-promoting” drug for narcolepsy known by the brand name Provigil — and methylphenidate, which is best known as the notorious ADHD drug Ritalin.

And yet, these and other powerful stimulant drugs failed miserably compared to the standout winner of the four treatments: exercise!

That’s right — exercise. And it didn’t matter if the exercise was aerobic (which gets your heart pumping) or anaerobic (which increases muscle strength) both reducing fatigue by as much as 30 percent.

And the drugs? None of them were able to cut back on fatigue by more than a mere nine percent at best.

Plus that, modafinil can cause such serious side effects that the European Medicines Agency recommended six years ago that its use be restricted due to “life-threatening skin reactions,” depression, suicidal thoughts and psychotic episodes. The ADHD drug, Ritalin, has a list of side effects as long as your arm that include anxiety, palpitations, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and psychosis.

Just what a cancer patient needs, right?

Dr. Mustian boiled her results down to this: “Rather than looking for extra cups of coffee, a nap, or a pharmaceutical solution, consider a 15-minute walk.”

Now for most of us, that recommendation would be easy to follow. But for a cancer patient the prospect of even a short stroll might seem as daunting as trying to climb Mt. Everest.

That’s why you have to stay fortified with excellent nutrition.

Again, this is easier said than done, but a nutrient-rich diet is a must. And the average cancer patient needs twice the protein and another ten percent more calories than they needed before.

To make that happen, some ginseng might be all that’s necessary. Ginseng is proven to stimulate the appetite — and it’s also an adaptogen, which means it works through the adrenal glands to help your body cope with fatigue and other stresses.

In a study done by the Mayo Clinic a few years ago, a 2,000 mg daily dose of ginseng produced the best results in relieving fatigue and promoting vitality. And that could be just the thing to help you stay nourished enough to get up, get moving, and put CRF far behind you.

“Exercise better than drugs for cancer fatigue” Reuters, March 7, 2017, newsmax.com