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Healthy Diet Plans >>  Dietary Supplements >>  Essiac


Essiac is mainly a combination of four herbs namely burdock root, slippery elm inner bark, sheep sorrel and Turkish rhubarb. The original formula is believed to be based on traditional Ojibwa (Native American) remedy, developed by a Canadian nurse Rene Caisse (1888-1978) in 1920’s who used to administer this formula by mouth or by injection to various cancer patients to improve their quality of life. The name essiac is based on the name of nurse Caisse (Caisse spelled backwards forms essiac).
The basic amounts and type of ingredients in the original formula remains a secret. However essiac and products with similar ingredients like essiac are popular among many cancer patients despite of inadequate scientific research on this formula.
Traditionally essiac was most commonly taken orally in the form of tea.
Some herbs were added later as ‘potentiators’ to the basic formula of essiac, they were blessed thistle, red clover, kelp, and watercress. More than 40 products containing similar ingredients like essiac are available in Europe, North America and Australia.

Health and essiac

  1. Human studies on essiac for its safety and effectiveness for cancer patients or for breast cancer treatment are lacking. Studies that have been carried out doesn’t seem to be beneficial as they have varied results, moreover essiac was administered along with other proven therapies for cancer making it impossible to isolate the effects of essiac. Also different brands of essiac may have variable ingredients in not a constant proportion making the comparative effectiveness of these formulas difficult. Not a single individual herb used in essiac is tested individually for its safety and effectiveness in cancer treatment. Individuals with cancer may benefit from essiac supplementation but it is very important to start the other proven cancer therapies and not delay cancer treatment.  
  2. As the herbal combination of essiac is also believed to have immune enhancing properties, essiac has also become popular among patients with HIV and diabetes.

Side effects and essiac 

The safety of essiac is purely theoretical and it is not studied for its side effects.
  1. The tannins, oxalic acid and anthraquinones present in the herbs used as ingredient in essiac products. Tannins may cause stomach upset and in high concentrations may lead to liver or kidney damage. Oxalic acid in high levels can cause throat/mouth burning, very low blood pressure, seizure, blood electrolyte imbalances, nausea and vomiting. Anthraquinones may cause diarrhea, loss of fluid and electrolytes and intestinal problems.
  2. Essiac or essiac containing products are not recommended in pregnancy and lactation its safety and effectiveness in these conditions is not proved.
Before starting the therapy using essiac products it is advisable to do so under the supervision and guidance of a health care professional.

Submitted on January 16, 2014