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Fighting Fatigue?

A friend has been touting NT Factor to combat fatigue. What do you think?

Answer (Published 10/12/2006)

NT Factor is a dietary supplement promoted for reduction of fatigue. Proponents claim that it bolsters cellular energy and promotes healthy function of the mitochondria, the cell structures that convert nutrients into energy. NT Factor is said to be a nutrient complex containing probiotics, growth factors, and phosphoglycolipids, substances that supposedly replace damaged mitochondrial membrane phospholipids. The idea is that by preventing damage to the mitochondria, NT Factor reduces the risk of age-related diseases and might even slow the aging process itself.

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I've come across a few human clinical trials of NT Factor for treatment of fatigue. One was a very small study published in the fall, 2003, issue of the Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It included only 20 participants between the ages of 61 and 77, all of whom used NT Factor for 12 weeks. The supplement didn't do much for those with mild fatigue (as measured on a special test designed to evaluate fatigue) but was reported to reduce fatigue by about 35 percent among participants whose test scores rated their fatigue as "moderate." The researchers also noted a "significant" increase in mitochondrial function in this group of older subjects.

Another slightly larger human study with 64 participants with high-moderate and severe fatigue who were treated with NT Factor for eight weeks showed a reduction of fatigue by 33 percent. The study was published in 2003 in The Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association (JANA). And a third one, published in a 2001 issue of JANA, included 36 chemotherapy patients who took NT Factor for 12 weeks. The researchers reported that the supplement significantly reduced fatigue, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.

I'm not convinced by the scant literature on the subject that there's anything to recommend taking NT Factor for fatigue. What's more, the supplement is expensive: up to $130 for a month's supply if you take it as directed (one to three tablets three times a day). If you're suffering from fatigue, concentrate on getting adequate rest, be sure to get some exercise daily and do my breathing exercises. In addition, you could take Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), coenzyme Q10, the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha or cordyceps, a traditional Chinese medicinal mushroom that may help fight fatigue and boost energy levels.

If you have chronic fatigue syndrome, the best thing you can do for yourself is 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five days a week. A few years ago, a British study found that 55 percent of the chronic fatigue patients who took part in a 12-week exercise program rated themselves "much" or "very much" better as a result, and even a year later 74 percent still considered themselves improved. As for enhancing mitochondrial function to reduce risk of age-related disease, I would first look at Juvenon, a product developed by nutritional biochemist Bruce Ames that combines two better studied supplements: acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR) and alpha-lipoic acid (ALA).

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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