Is Essiac Tea really full of health benefits?
The food industry today is awash with products that are sourced naturally and make claims of having health boosting qualities and abilities in solving different health problems.
In a huge commercial market of herbal remedies and dietary supplements tea has come to the forefront of weight loss and health benefit claims.
A popular herbal tea that you may not have heard before is Essiac tea.
Essiac tea has for a long time been touted by supporters as being an effective alternative medicine in fighting cancers, as well as offering health benefits that can improve the overall quality of life and help with numerous medical conditions.
In its ability to tackle cancer many turn to herbal remedies as a final option or as an alternative to radiation therapies which can often be long and painful experiences both emotionally and physically whereas many herbal remedies are seen as more hopeful, less destructive options.
Today we look at the purported health benefits of Essiac tea, its origins and whether it holds up to its status as a natural remedy that can do it all.
If herbal wellness is your thing then be sure to check out some of the recommended posts, or this one on the benefits of tart cherries!
What is Essiac Tea?
Essiac tea is typically made of a mixture of roots and herbal mixtures such as Burdock root, slippery elm bark, sheep sorrel and Indian rhubarb although there are variations.
Often sold in powder form or teabags it is brewed for 12 hours overnight in either dechlorinated or spring water.
Drunk in small amounts for lesser ailments and in larger quantities if being used for cancer, it is often referred to as a natural treatment for improved overall health with the health benefits of Essiac tea being centred around its ability to cure common ailments as well as more severe problems.
The original formulation was described by a Canadian nurse called Rene Caisse around 1920, who proclaimed its healing properties and that it was passed to her from a patient who had been cured of breast cancer.
Therefore, it was believed that it had many health benefits including the ability to fight cancers.
It has also been suggested it may have originated from a native tribe called the Ojibwa however to this day there is no evidence that “Ojibwa tea” existed either as a herbal medicine or social drink.
The name Essiac is literally Caisse spelt backwards.
Eventually Caisse left the nursing profession to explore the creation of her own clinic that attempted to use Essiac tea as a cure for cancer patients. Unfortunately, little evidence was gathered to prove it worked and she closed the clinic in the 1940’s.
Caisse eventually met and worked closely with Dr Charles Brusch who had a long-standing belief in natural remedies and was convinced in the health benefits of Essiac tea.
Rene and Dr Brusch became medical partners and explored the benefits of Essiac together. Given orally to patients at first and on an empty stomach they tried to single out one ingredient that worked in isolation to the others but could not. So, they agreed that a blend must be the most effective way to administer Essiac.
In the following decades she was approached numerous times by medical companies and brands who offered to commercialise the tea however she resisted. Eventually she did allow the Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer centre to test the effectiveness of the tea in clinical trials on animals with cancer in the 1970’s and 80’s.
Shortly before her death aged 91 she agreed to sell it to a Canadian company who attempted to commercialise it. Today it is made for mass market by Flor essence.
Due to its lack of medical certification, it can’t be sold as a medicine and therefore is classed as a herbal or natural product.
Rene left behind a product shrouded in mystery that divided those who swore by its healing abilities and its improvements to general health whilst the scientific journals struggled to find any evidence of its effects.
Main Ingredients and Their Benefits
So, are there any health benefits of Essiac tea? Well, its individual ingredients have been shown to have some positive health benefits.
1. Burdock root (Arctium Lappa) has been shown to have excellent antioxidant properties. Used for centuries in holistic medicines it helps protect cells against free radicals. It has more recently been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties in some conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.
In the science world it has recently been discovered that Burdock root reduced inflammatory markers in the blood of patients with Osteoarthritis.
It also removes toxins from the blood stream whilst promoting increased circulation to the surface of the skin. This in turn has shown promise in treating skin conditions like acne and eczema.
2. Slippery Elm Bark (Ulmus Rubra) has been used historically by the Native Americans who would strip the slimy, red inner bark from the twigs and branches for use against minor ailments like fevers and sore throats.
It has also shown to be a fantastic anti-irritant particularly through the stomach and digestive system. It can help to treat symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease.
It is amazingly effective against almost all gastrointestinal diseases. It has also been proven to help with digestive problems like constipation by helping with bowel movements, although the study into the barks being singularly responsible is ongoing.
As a mild diuretic it also helps increase the flow of urine and eliminate waste from the body. When mixed with water it creates a gel like substance. This has shown to be very beneficial for treatments of conditions in the gastrointestinal tract.
3. Sheep Sorrel (Rumex Acetosella) is often recommended to increase urine production due to its mild diuretic properties.
It is high in vitamin C so can help against scurvy and when made into a tea it is used against menstrual problems. It has a drying effect also which helps reduce mucus production. This is thought to be due to the Tannins that the leaves often contain.
Although generally considered safe in large quantities it can cause abdominal pain and Diarrhea.
4. Indian Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum) like many varieties of this fruit is packed with vitamins and minerals.
A recent study has shown that it may reduce liver cancer cells in rats. It is also packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties which can help with digestive conditions.
They are also an excellent source of fibre with one study showing in men with high cholesterol after eating a small amount of rhubarb everyday for a month on average the cholesterol dropped 8%.
In Essiac tea arguments have been made that the Turkish Rhubarb is more effective however it seems both the Indian and Turkish varieties are practically equal.
A final point is that it is one of the richest food sources for calcium oxalate, the most common form of oxalic acid. This can in large amounts lead to the formation of Kidney stones.
Top 3 Health Benefits of Essiac Tea
With all the individual benefits discussed previously and like most herbal supplements it must do some good. The health benefits of Essiac tea help with inflammatory and irritant conditions.
2. Cancer Fighting Effects?
As with many herbal teas, various large and small scientific studies have been carried out to ascertain how effective it is, but to date these have all been lab or animal trials.
One study in test tubes found the tea had antioxidant properties that could help protect cells and therefore potentially have positive results in protecting against cancer.
Another study suggested that for best results, high concentrations of Essiac tea blocked the growth of breast cancer cells and Leukaemia.
There have also been some limited cases of individuals responding well to the drink including one man who attributed his recovery from Prostate cancer to his use of Essiac.
However, on the flip side plenty of studies have shown little to no effect of Essiac tea on cancer development.
In fact, over 15 animal studies in have produced no positive data on its effects on cancer cells and in some cases even became associated with stimulating breast cancer cells in Rats.
It is important to note however that as it stands no human trials have ever been carried out, so the evidence is inconclusive to its effects on the human body and its general health benefits.
3. Boosts The Immune System
One of the best results of drinking Essiac Tea, is that it offers immune system support.
The Burdock root in the tea has been shown to boost functions of the Lymphatic system which distributes white blood cells to combat infections.
In small amounts both Burdock root and Rhubarb are known to help detoxify the body cleansing the liver of toxic build up and waste.
Side Effects of Essiac Tea
While some health benefits of Essiac tea may be inconclusive, are there any side effects of Essiac tea drinking?
Well actually yes. Numerous possible side effects have been associated with the drink.
Nausea and vomiting are the most commonly reported side effects, but it is suggested that other possible side effects can be frequent urination, increased bowel movements, Flu like symptoms and swollen glands although these seem rare.
Its an interesting point that the manufacturers also state that pregnant women or breastfeeding women should avoid the product.
In severe examples it has also been shown to cause liver damage and kidney problems although typically when consumed in large quantities.
As some scientific evidence has also shown that it could potentially encourage the growth of breast cancer cells, patients with breast cancer are recommended by some to avoid the product.
Others however claim no side effects and point out it has the ability to energise and improve quality of life.
So, does it work?
Well, currently research on the health benefits of Essiac tea are limited with most studies being on animals or cells in laboratory studies.
Many of the purported benefits of the tea come from word of mouth or stories of people who felt it had a positive effect on the entire body or had examples of patients who recovered from cancer.
The bottom line is that not enough study has been done on the health benefits of Essiac tea outside of its effect on cancer and none have been done in clinical trials.
In the United States the FDA (U.S. food and drug administration) have not cleared Essiac tea for the treatment of cancers. The Canadian government has also so far not approved its use medically.
The data is inconclusive on whether this is an effective natural cancer treatment. Most studies have come up with no relatable evidence that there are many health benefits of Essiac tea or that its ability to tackle cancer is real.
One study also suggests that the tea reacts negatively with chemotherapy increasing toxicity in the blood.
It certainly has encouraging effects on different health problems away from just cancer with increased energy levels and anti-inflammatory properties. It seems to be encouragingly effective in tackling mild digestive conditions.
As with all these things if you were considering this as an alternative treatment for any condition it is always best to consult your medical expert first.