Essiac | Cancer Research UK
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What Essiac is

Essiac is a herbal remedy originally from Canada. There is no scientific evidence to show that Essiac can treat, prevent or cure cancer or any other serious illness in humans. Essiac was created by a Canadian nurse called Renee Caisse. She named the remedy after herself and Essiac is her surname spelled backwards. Other names for Essiac include tea of life. 

Essiac is now owned by a commercial company and their lawyers require us to say that "Essiac is the registered trademark of Essiac Products Inc" whenever we mention it.

Essiac is a mixture of roots, bark and leaves that you boil to make a drinkable brown liquid.. The 4 main ingredients are

  • Burdock root
  • Sheep Sorrel
  • Slippery Elm
  • Indian Rhubarb root

A modified Essiac product called Flor Essence also includes the additional herbs

  • Watercress
  • Blessed thistle
  • Red clover
  • Kelp

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, such as cancer drugs or radiotherapy, was more likely to have been the reason for the cancer disappearing. 

Essiac is not accepted or licensed as a drug. It is usually sold as a nutritional supplement. 

The makers of Essiac and Flor essence say that they can be used alongside cancer treatment. But some websites advise that when taking Essiac you don't have cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. We recommend that you don't replace your conventional cancer treatment with any type of alternative cancer therapy, such as Essiac. Stopping cancer treatment could be very harmful to your health. Essiac may interact with some types of cancer treatment so it is very important to tell your doctor if you are thinking of taking Essiac.


Why people with cancer use Essiac

Although there is no scientific evidence that Essiac can help to treat cancer or control its symptoms, many people with cancer still take it. The reasons for taking it include the following situations.

If cancer can’t be cured

Your doctor may tell you that there are no further conventional cancer treatments available that could cure your cancer. But treatments to control your symptoms are still possible. The news that your cancer can’t be cured is very difficult to accept. In this situation, it isn’t surprising that some people consider using alternative therapies, including Essiac. They hope that it will help them to live longer but there is no evidence that Essiac can do this.

Boosting the immune system

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 it may be partly due to the lack of research.

Controlling or curing your cancer

Some people promote alternative therapies such as Essiac to cure or treat cancer. But, again, there is no scientific evidence to prove that Essiac can do this. 

Taking Essiac to feel better

People also take Essiac to

  • Relieve pain
  • Shrink a tumour
  • Reduce weight loss (cachexia) in advanced cancer
  • Improve health, energy levels and wellbeing
  • Detoxify and cleanse the body

Taking Essiac

You can buy Essiac as a powder. You make it into a tea and drink it on an empty stomach, 2 hours before meals. The manufacturers recommend that you take 1 to 12 ounces (30 to 350mg) of this drink every day.

You can also buy it as a liquid and mix it with spring water or distilled water and keep it in the fridge. The recommended dose in this form is usually about 1 ounce, taken up to 3 times a day. The manufacturers say you can take Essiac for a period of 1 to 2 years.


Research into Essiac in cancer treatment

Most of the websites promoting Essiac base their claims on unsupported opinions and anecdotal evidence. 

In 1959, and again in the 1970s, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre tested Essiac in the laboratory. They found it had no anti cancer properties.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the USA was asked to test Essiac in the early 1980s. They said it did not appear to have any anti cancer effect, but did not seem to do any harm either. In 1998 a review of Essiac studies for breast cancer did not show any benefit. One study in 2006 found that when Essiac was added to breast cancer cells in test tubes, it stimulated the cancer cells to grow.

A review in 2005 by the Task Force on Alternative Therapies of the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative found no benefit from using Essiac. Another review in 2005 by the Research Council for Complementary Medicine (RCCM) also found no evidence that Essiac could help people with cancer. You can read their review on the CAMEOL database

In 2009 researchers in the USA carried out a review of all studies into Essiac and Essiac preparations. They found there were no well carried out clinical trials to show that Essiac could help people with cancer. But some laboratory trials seem to show that it may act against cancer cells in the laboratory or in animals. The researchers said that there is no evidence that Essiac works or that it is safe to take for people with cancer. We need information from well designed clinical trials testing Essiac or its individual herbs before we know whether it is helpful. 

The CAM-Cancer organisation reviews the evidence from scientific research on how well some complementary therapies work. In 2011 they looked at all the reviews about Essiac and could not find any well carried out clinical studies in cancer patients. They assessed both Essiac and Flor Essence. They say that there is no evidence that Essiac works and that some of its ingredients could cause harm.


Side effects of Essiac

There are few reports of side effects from taking Essiac but the makers say that it may cause 

  • Having bowels open more often 
  • Passing urine more often
  • Swollen glands
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Headaches
  • Skin redness and inflammation

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 1 case report a woman had lack of appetite, feeling sick, tiredness, and abdominal pain after taking Essiac tea for 6 months. Her symptoms got better when she stopped taking the tea. 

Another case report suggests that Essiac may slow down the rate at which your body gets rid of some drugs. This can mean that affected drugs are more potent or that their effects last longer in your body. The case report suggests that Essiac may block liver enzymes called cytochrome p450. These enzymes are important in getting some chemotherapy drugs out of your system. So it is best to talk to your cancer specialist about this if you are thinking of taking Essiac.


The cost of Essiac

Compared to some other alternative remedies Essiac isn’t expensive. A 1 month supply of Essiac tea costs around £6.00. The suppliers also recommend that you buy special bottles and an infuser as a starter kit to make the tea. This costs around £10.00.


A word of caution

Only you can decide whether or not to use an alternative cancer therapy such as Essiac. But there is no scientific or medical evidence to back up the claims made by its promoters. If you have cancer, using unproven methods instead of conventional medical treatment can be very harmful to you.

We are concerned that alternative therapies, like this one, lack scientific evidence to prove they help. It is understandable that you and the people who care about you may want to try anything if you think it might help treat or cure your cancer. So our message is

  • Be careful
  • Make sure that you look into all the information that is available, and check who provides the therapy
  • Talk to your cancer doctor before you spend money for any therapy, whether it’s conventional, complementary or alternative

Useful organisations

We don’t know of any specific UK Essiac organisations or websites. Some of the organisations listed on our complementary therapy organisations page may be able to offer information about using Essiac. There is also information for health professionals on the CAM-cancer website.

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Updated: 30 January 2015