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Wednesday, 12 June, 2002, 03:27 GMT 04:27 UK
Energy boost for cancer patients
Cancer drug
Chemotherapy can cause fatigue
Swallowing a specially designed energy drink each day could boost cancer patients left exhausted by chemotherapy.

Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of treatment for cancer.


It could become an important way of maintaining quality of life for patients undergoing intensive treatment for cancer

Dr Francesco Graziano
It leaves patients so tired that they are unable to perform everyday tasks.

Italian scientists have found that giving people a substance called levocarnitine - which is taken in a pineapple flavoured drink - seems to help them recover from the effects of treatment.

In their study, 90% of those who received the supplement recovered from their fatigue within a week.

Causes

Scientists believe many cases of fatigue - which affects 80% of patients receiving chemotherapy - occur when treatment disrupts a patient's metabolism.

This depletes levels of a molecule called carnitine, which is vital for providing energy to our muscles.

Lead researcher Dr Francesco Graziano, of Urbino Hospital in Italy, said: "After chemotherapy, many patients have low levels of carnitine in their blood and we think that's one of the reasons they feel so exhausted.

"It seemed logical that boosting carnitine levels with a dietary supplement might restore that lost energy.

"Our study was the first to take this new approach to treating fatigue and the results, although preliminary, were very encouraging."

Questionnaires

Dr Graziano and his colleagues studied 50 patients who had reported feeling fatigue during the course of their chemotherapy.


Treating patients more effectively doesn't just mean keeping them alive for longer

Professor Gordon McVie
They used detailed questionnaires to assess each patient's degree of fatigue and took blood samples to measure carnitine levels.

Researchers then gave patients an energy drink containing levocarnitine, which is converted to carnitine in the body. After a week of treatment, their progress was assessed.

On average, blood carnitine levels increased by 50% over the course of the week.

Dr Graziano said: "The quality of life of our patients improved markedly over the course of the week, and it seems likely that the improvements were a result of the supplements they were taking.

"We now need larger-scale trials, to test the extent to which the supplement can restore patients' energy levels.

"It could become an important way of maintaining quality of life for patients undergoing intensive treatment for cancer."

Prof Gordon McVie of Cancer Research UK, said: "Treating patients more effectively doesn't just mean keeping them alive for longer; it also means preserving their quality of life.

"We are getting better at reducing the side effects associated with modern drugs, but chemotherapy still robs many patients of the energy they need to live their life to the full.

"A simple dietary supplement to restore a patient's zip would be a valuable step forward and these initial results are certainly encouraging."

The research is published in the British Journal of Cancer.

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