What is Essiac tea?
Essiac tea was originally a Native American natural remedy, but today, it's known all over the world for its many health benefits. The biggest reason behind its popularity is its purported anti-cancer effects. However, some people also take it to boost their immune system in general.
However, despite its widespread use as a health tonic, many health experts don't recommend using it as a medical treatment. This is because there isn't enough scientific evidence to prove its usefulness for cancer treatment or any other health condition.
Essiac tea is a herbal tea mixture that is believed to have been originally used by the Native Americans. Today, companies market it as a health tonic, herbal immune system booster, and herbal supplement — on the condition that they make no claims about its ability to treat cancer.
Essiac tea is known for its rich history. It was first introduced to the broader world in the 1920s as a herbal cancer treatment by a Canadian nurse named Rene Caisse (Caisse spelled backward becomes Essiac). The Essiac formula wasn't her own, though. Rather, it was given to her by a breast cancer patient who claimed that the tonic was a traditional Ojibwa remedy that had cured her cancer.
In 1934, Nurse Cassie set up a clinic in Ontario to help cancer patients with the Essiac blend. Over the years, she continued working on it and made it famous.
In the end, she sold the rights of the formula to a Canadian company, which currently sells the herbal formulation under the brand name Essiac. Additionally, there are many other Essiac-like products now being sold in stores and online in the form of powder, capsules, and tea bags.
What are the main ingredients in Essiac tea?
Essiac tea is a blend of four different plant ingredients. These plants give Essiac tea its many different names, including powdered sheep sorrel root, powdered rhubarb root, and powdered slippery elm bark.
These are the four main traditional ingredients of Essiac tea:
- Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella): Test-tube studies show that this herb can act as a strong anti-viral agent.
- Burdock root (Arctium lappa): The substances present in this root are known to regulate blood sugar levels, boost skin health, and help in blood circulation.
- Indian rhubarb (Rheum palmatum): Animal research shows that this plant has potent antioxidant properties and the ability to fight liver cancer cells in mice.
- Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra): This herb is rich in antioxidants and commonly used as a natural remedy for inflammatory bowel disease.
The newer Essiac blends often also contain other ingredients like:
- Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
- Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)
- Kelp (Laminaria digitata)
- Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus)
Are there any nutrients in Essiac tea?
Like most other teas, the ingredients in Essiac tea are heavily diluted. This means you would only get minimal amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fiber, sugars, and calories from a cup of this tea.
You may also get small amounts of potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C depending on the brand of Essiac tea.
What are the benefits of Essiac tea?
It is claimed that Essiac tea — when made with the right amount of ingredients — has potent anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. While the Essiac blend is most commonly used for cancer treatment, some people also use it for treating AIDS, diabetes and digestive issues.
Despite being widely known for its anti-cancer effects, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not approve Essiac tea for treating cancer. This is because there is no conclusive evidence to prove its anti-cancer properties.
That said, some studies show that Essiac tea has antioxidant effects and the ability to prevent DNA and cell damage, which, in turn, could potentially prevent cancer. According to some older test-tube studies, the Essiac blend — when taken in higher amounts — can help prevent leukemia and breast cancer cells from growing. Similar results have also been seen during animal research, though studies on humans are insufficient. More human-based studies are needed to prove the effects of the Essiac blend on cancer cells.
Additionally, there are also many animal and test-tube studies that have found it to be ineffective for cancer treatment.
What are the side effects of Essiac tea?
People who take Essiac tea can experience minor problems like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or rashes. Moreover, the more modern Essiac blends containing watercress and kelp can lead to additional side effects like:
- Skin blemishes
- Frequent urination
- Swollen glands
- Frequent bowel movements
- Slight headaches
- Flu-like symptoms
However, the risk of these problems is lower in healthy people who don't have any major medical conditions. The effects are more severe and prone to occur in those who have poor liver or kidney function.
Also, some animal and test tube studies show that Essiac tea may promote the growth of breast cancer cells.
How should Essiac tea be taken?
Since Essiac teas are sold in the form of herbal teas and health tonics, they should be taken orally (by mouth). It's usually recommended to take 2 to 4 ounces of this tea every day continuously for 12 weeks. However, you can change the dose of the tea if you need more or less of it depending on your health condition.
The companies making Essiac tea state that it's safe to use their products while undergoing other therapies, but some recommend avoiding having this tea while taking any cancer treatment like radiation therapy or chemotherapy. This is because it's believed that such therapies could affect the immune system and reduce the effectiveness of the Essiac blend.
The most important thing to bear in mind is that no human studies have proven the health benefits of Essiac tea. Therefore, before using it as a herbal supplement or remedy, it's best to talk to your doctor and discuss whether it would be safe for you to drink it.
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Antiviral Research: "Oligomeric proanthocyanidins from Rumex acetosa L. inhibit the attachment of herpes simplex virus type-1."
Bethesda. “Essiac/Flor Essence (PDQ®): Health Professional Version,” National Cancer Institute (US), 2022
Breastcancer.org: "Essiac Tea."
Cancer.gov: "Essiac/Flor Essence (PDQ®)–Patient Version."
Inflammopharmacology: "A review of the pharmacological effects of Arctium lappa (burdock)."
Intestinal Research: "Natural product-derived drugs for the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases."
Journal of Ethnopharmacology: "Essiac tea: scavenging of reactive oxygen species and effects on DNA damage."
The Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology: "Rheum palmatum root extract inhibits hepatocellular carcinoma in rats treated with diethylnitrosamine."
Phytotherapy Research: "In Vitro culture studies of FlorEssence on human tumor cell lines."
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