Original Article

Traditional Japanese herbal medicine rikkunshito increases food intake and plasma acylated ghrelin levels in patients with esophageal cancer treated by cisplatin-based chemotherapy

Yoich Hamai, Tomoharu Yoshiya, Jun Hihara, Manabu Emi, Takaoki Furukawa, Ichiko Yamakita, Yuta Ibuki, Morihito Okada


Background: Cisplatin (CDDP) is an important chemotherapeutic drug for treating esophageal cancer that often induces nausea and vomiting. Rikkunshito (RKT), a traditional Japanese herbal medicine, can increase levels of plasma ghrelin, which is an orexigenic gut hormone that can alleviate chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) and anorexia.
Methods: This prospective randomized crossover study included 20 patients with esophageal cancer who were administered with CDDP-based chemotherapy. Ten of them were assigned to group A [1st course: with RKT 7.5 g/day on days 1–14; 2nd course: without RKT (control)] and 10 were assigned to group B [1st course: without RKT (control); 2nd course: with RKT 7.5 g/day on days 22–35]. Food intake and levels of plasma acylated ghrelin (AG) were compared between the control and RKT courses.
Results: Data from 18 patients were included in this analysis, as chemotherapy was immediately stopped due to deteriorating renal function in one patient and intracerebral bleeding in another. The median rate at which food intake decreased between days 4 and 6 was considerably lower in the course with, than without RKT (2% vs. 30%; P=0.02). Median levels of AG significantly increased from days 3 to 8 in patients in both courses with and without RKT (9.6 to 15.7 fmol/mL, P<0.0001; control, 10.2 to 17.8, P=0.0002). The rate at which median plasma AG levels increased from days 3 to 8 tend to be higher in the RKT, than in the control course (68% vs. 48%, P=0.08).
Conclusions: RKT can improve CDDP-induced, delayed-onset anorexia and increase plasma AG levels among patients with esophageal cancer who undergo highly emetogenic chemotherapy (HEC).

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