Essiac or Essiac Tea is a blend of herbs used to make a tea that is believed by some and questioned by others to have cancer-treating properties. It was discovered by a Canadian nurse, Rene Caisse, who named it after her last name spelled backwards. Other names for Essiac include ‘Flor essence’ and ‘tea of life’. The original formula is believed to have its roots in native Canadian Ojibwa medicine and contains Greater Burdock Root (Arctium lappa), Slippery Elm Inner Bark (Ulmus rubra, formerly known as Ulmus fulva), Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella), and Indian or Turkish rhubarb root (Rheum officinale). The mixture is boiled to make a drinkable brown liquid.

With respect to the use of Essiac in treating cancer, the U.S. National Institutes of Health's Medline states that as of early 2008:

Currently, there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against the use of this herbal mixture as a therapy for any type of cancer. Different brands may contain variable ingredients, and the comparative effectiveness of these formulas is not known. None of the individual herbs used in Essiac has been tested in rigorous human cancer trials (rhubarb has shown some anti-tumor properties in animal experiments; slippery elm inner bark has not; sheep sorrel and burdock have been used traditionally in cancer remedies). Numerous individual patient testimonials and reports from manufacturers are available on the Internet, although these cannot be considered scientifically viable as evidence. Individuals with cancer are advised not to delay treatment with more proven therapies.

Caisse set up a free clinic in Bracebridge, Ontario which ran from 1934 to 1942. During that time a number of petitions were presented to the Legislature in Ontario, in 1938 calling for Rene to be allowed to practice throughout Ontario, but such permission was not granted.

There are more than 40 different essiac-like products now being sold in North America, Europe, and Australia. One of these alternative preparations contains eight herbs, adding Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Watercress (Nasturtium officinale), Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus), and Kelp (Laminaria digitata) to the original four ingredients. Other preparations add Echinacea and Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) or other ingredients, such as Cat's Claw ( Uncaria tomentosa ).

Some people take essiac tea on occasion for general health purposes, detoxification, or for healing of various ailments other than cancer. Some of these other ailments include AIDS, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, immune system disorders, liver problems, Lyme disease, and lupus erythematosus. NIH's Medline says even less evidence is available for these applications than for cancer.

Cancer help state on their website:

Essiac is claimed to be a miracle cure for cancer. There have been reports over the years of cancers completely disappearing after taking Essiac. But in many cases, it turned out that either the diagnosis was wrong in the first place, or that conventional cancer treatment was more likely to have been the reason for the 'cure'. There is no scientific evidence to show that Essiac can treat, prevent or cure cancer or any other serious illness in humans.

Although there is no scientific evidence that Essiac can help treat cancer or control its symptoms, many people with cancer still use herbal remedies such as Essiac. Reasons for this include

  • If cancer can't be cured
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Controlling or curing cancer

People also take Essiac

  • To relieve pain
  • To shrink a tumour
  • Improving health, energy levels and well being
  • To detoxify and cleanse the body
  • Hope of living longer

Some people believe that certain alternative or complementary therapies can boost your immune system and help fight your cancer. There is no scientific evidence to prove this, although this may be partly due to the lack of research.

There are reported side effects from taking Essiac for long periods of time. These include

Essiac is not recommended in people who have kidney or liver problems. This is because the plants in Essiac contain chemicals called oxalates which can damage the liver and kidneys.

In the 1970s, Caisse provided the formula to Resperin Corporation Ltd., with the understanding that Resperin would coordinate a scientific trial in humans. Although a study was initiated, it was stopped early amidst questions of improper preparation of the formula and inadequate study design. This research was never completed. Resperin Corporation Ltd., which owned the Essiac name, formally went out of business after transferring rights to the Essiac name and selling the secret formula to Essiac Products Ltd, which currently distributes products through Essiac International.

Rene Caisse and her clinic have long since passed, but Essiac continues to be used by thousands of people every.

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