Life after cancer has its challenges. For women, living in the aftermath of cancer can affect everything from their energy levels and sexuality to how well they feel and function day-to-day.
A recent study shows a natural supplement may be an elixir of sorts that helps women cancer survivors live - and enjoy - life more fully.
A nutritional supplement that's been marketed for years as a sexual enhancement aid has been shown to help improve the overall quality of life for women cancer survivors.
These are the findings of a new study conducted by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researchers and reported at the 2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting.
Many women suffer from lack of energy, pain, insomnia and other problems following cancer treatment. These problems can linger for months, even years. Doctors have been unable to offer few remedies for these long-term side effects.
Searching for relief
Kathryn M. Greven, M.D., a radiation oncologist at Wake Forest Baptist, is interested in finding solutions for these issues, particularly those relating to sexual dysfunction.
She'd become aware of ArginMaxTM for Women from a small Stanford University study and designed an investigation to see if the supplement could help improve sexual function for women cancer survivors.
Greven and her team designed the double-blind, placebo-controlled study in which no one, including the investigators, knew who was taking the medication being studied.
They recruited 186 female cancer survivors from across the country. Participants were at least six months out from their last treatment and had no evidence of cancer.
"The patients who participated in this study were selected mostly because they had lower sexual function scores, not necessarily lower quality of life scores," Greven said.
Study participants received either the supplement or a placebo (sugar pill) twice a day for 12 weeks. They completed two questionaires that measured sexual function and overall quality of life at the beginning and throughout the trial.
Interestingly, those taking the supplement did not report any improvement in sexual function. However, they did experience a marked improvement in their overall quality of life.
Greven says bothersome physical symptoms - pain, sleeplessness and lack of energy - all improved significantly. Women taking the supplement reported enjoying life more, she said.
Measuring quality of life
Results were based on the two questionnaires participants completed during the trial.
The Female Sexual Function Index measures different aspects of sexual function, such as desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and pain.
The FACT-G questionnaire measures overall quality of life and evaluates physical, emotional, social and functional well-being.
Improving overall well-being
The FACT-G questionnaires, which are used to study all types of cancers, showed an "across-the-board boost" in both physical and functional well being among those taking the supplement.
"If we had selected patients who had started the study with lower quality-of-life scores," Greven said, "we probably would have seen even better results."
Global symptom relief
The medical community tends to manage individual symptoms as they appear, rather than provide remedies for "global symptom relief," says co-researcher, Edward G. Shaw, M.D., M.A., an oncologist and counselor and principal investigator for Wake Forest Baptist’s Community Clinical Oncology Program Research Base.
He notes that cancer survivors often have persistent inflammation - a process known as chronic oxidative stress - that can cause fatigue and affects many areas of a woman's life. He said this can continue for years following treatment.
Shaw theorized that the natural amino acids, herbs, vitamins and minerals in ArginMax for Women apparently help to counteract this process and offer improvements in a number of areas.
This research will be very "empowering for the community of cancer survivors," Shaw said.
Greven said the findings have sparked interest among researchers about whether the supplement could improve quality of life and energy levels for other populations.
She added that additional work is needed to address the specific issues relating to sexual dysfunction for women cancer survivors.
Follow up studies are planned for other populations of both women and men.
ArginMax for Women is a patented formula and contains a proprietary blend of L-arginine, ginseng, ginkgo, and 14 vitamins and minerals noted for boosting energy and circulation and optimizing hormonal balance.
ArginMax is manufactured by The Daily Wellness Company, based in Honolulu, Hawaii. The company provided materials for the study, including the supplement and placebo pills.