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When you turn on your phones, televisions, and computers, what are you often bombarded with? Questionable quick fixes, delusional diets, and crazy cancer ‘cures’. As odd as many of these natural treatments and remedies sound, many of them have the science to back their claims. But when people invest themselves in natural remedies claiming to cure cancer without doing further research, they run the risk of facing some serious health problems.

It’s because of these issues that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to caution people against using the popular Essiac tea. So, does it really work?

Essiac Tea: What Is It?

In its original form, the Essiac tea mixture contained four ingredients:[1]

  • Burdock root
  • Indian (or Turkey) rhubarb root
  • Sheep sorrel
  • Slippery elm (the inner bark)

Flor Essence, a tea mixture people often talk about in combination with Essiac, contains the same ingredients and an additional four, which include:[1]

  • Watercress
  • Blessed thistle
  • Red clover
  • Kelp

The History of Essiac Tea

essiac tea

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Essiac tea is believed to be an ancient recipe that the Ojibwe tribes of Canada and the northern United States concocted. In 1922, Canadian nurse Rene Caisse received the Essiac formula from a breast cancer patient who claimed it had cured her disease.

About twelve years later, Caisse opened a cancer clinic in Ontario and offered Essiac tea to her patients for free. Four years later, the Royal Cancer Commissions of Canada payed Caisse’s clinic a visit but found little evidence proving the tea’s effectiveness.

Although she closed her clinic in 1942, Caisse continued to give Essiac to patience until almost 1980. Over the 60s and 70s, she partnered with an American doctor to study the potential anti-cancer effects of Essiac, out of which they created the formula called Flor Essence.

In the public sphere, Essiac and Flor Essence have moved forward quite freely over the decades as a natural cancer-fighting alternative to chemotherapy and other drugs. To date, though, there have been no reports of clinical trials in peer-reviewed scientific journals wherein Essiac and Flor Essence have proved to be effective cancer treatments.[1]

This isn’t to say it cannot or has not worked for people. Apparently, it has. But personal testimonies are something everyone should be weary of when it comes to a disease like cancer.

Medical professionals definitely attest to some of the other benefits of Essiac tea. For example, the tea has been shown to treat inflammation and chronic pain, strengthen immunity, detoxify the body, improve gastrointestinal problems, and fight against diabetes and AIDS. Despite personal success stories, companies that produce Essiac teas and other Essiac-like products cannot claim that they treat any disease. And if you want a natural anti-cancer treatment you know is based in science, Essiac tea simply isn’t there yet.[2]

The Effectiveness of Essiac and Flor Essence in Preclinical and Clinical Studies

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While researchers have conducted laboratory and animal studies for Essiac, very few have been reported dating all the way back to the 1970s. In one study conducted by New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), researchers tested the effects of dried and liquid Essiac samples on mouse tumors. Over the course eight experiments, they found that Essiac did not boost their immune systems activity or act like an anticancer drug.

The MSKCC also conducted an Essiac experiment in the early 1980s on both leukemia and other tumor models. But again, after 17 studies, researchers observed that the Essiac treatments had no anticancer effects.

Around the same time, researchers at the National Cancer Institute tested liquid Essiac on mouse lymphocytic leukemia tumors, which resulted still in no anticancer activity. In fact, high doses of this Essiac sample killed the test animals. But, of course, these adverse effects don’t necessarily translate to how humans would react.

In the case of Flor Essence, researchers who conducted two laboratory studies and a 2004 animal study found that this Essiac offshoot contributed to tumor cell growth and breast tumor growth in rats.

Did Essiac or Flor Essence Do Anything Good?

Yes. A laboratory study from University-Purdue University found that prostate cancer cell growth slowed with Essiac. Researchers also conducted another study using both high doses of both Essiac and Flor Essence herbal tea which reduced the growth of cancer cells.

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However, in observing clinical studies (i.e., ones with people) there really isn’t a lot to work with. In 1978, a Canadian company studying Essiac for safety and effectiveness was shut down. According to the Canadian government, the company failed to follow the rules necessary for clinical trials and didn’t keep their Essiac batches consistent. Of the data that the company did collect from this incomplete study, cancer patients taking Essiac showed no signs of improvement. However, the data also revealed that Essiac was not toxic.

A few years later, the Canadian government looked at doctor records for eighty-six patients who took Essiac for various health problems. But researchers concluded that their changes, positive or negative, could not definitively be attributed to Essiac. This may have been because the researchers didn’t review the patients’ original records.[3]

The FDA’s Perspective on Essiac Tea

After hearing about the limited preclinical and clinical studies that do exist, you can understand why the FDA has yet to approve Essiac or Flor Essence as a viable anticancer treatment (or any other health problems).

But another major reason why the FDA refuses to approve it is because companies selling Essiac or Flor Essence markets them as health tonics or herbal dietary supplements. Because they aren’t drugs per se, the FDA views, treats, and regulates them as foods.[4]

Now, you obviously know the incredibly powerful effect some foods, herbs, or supplements can have on cancer and other health problems. But for the FDA, foods are not drugs and therefore not meant to treat, prevent, or cure diseases. This seems absurd as a rule that should affect foods and other natural sources that do have the science to back their claims of treating or curing diseases. Despite the weak scientific evidence Essiac brings to the table for animals and humans alike, we believe that many people could benefit if the FDA took a positive step forward and was open-minded to more high-quality research into this popular, unconventional therapy.[3,5]

Essiac Advice for Readers

If you’re looking for the benefits of Essiac tea, better and safer alternatives do exist. Essiac tea could very well make it onto that list one day but, for now, check these out:

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We believe in using natural ingredients to be as healthy as possible. We believe dieting will never work as well as a lifestyle of healthy habits will. We believe you can treat pain and disease without relying on addictive drugs. We believe being happy is a big part of a healthy life.
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