Alternative Medicine: Essiac Never Proven Effective
There are some remedies that people use for cancer even
though these remedies have never been proven to be effective. One of these is
Essiac. Essiac is an herbal remedy that initially became popular in Canada in
the 1920s. A nurse named Renee Caisse (Essiac spelled backwards) reported that a
woman whose breast cancer had been cured by Essiac had given her, Caisse, the
recipe. Caisse began giving Essiac to cancer patients in her clinic. She
continued to do so for 40 years, even after the Cancer Commission, established
under the Cancer Remedies Act of Ontario, investigated in 1938 and found
“limited evidence” of Essiac’s effectiveness.
People who promote Essiac claim that it strengthens the
immune system, improves appetite, helps reduce pain and improves quality of
life. The original Essiac recipe contains four main herbs:
- Burdock root
- Indian rhubarb
- Sheep sorrel
- Inner bark of slippery elm
Burdock root and Indian rhubarb have been used as folk
remedies to promote wound healing and to treat cancer. (Both of these herbs
contain properties called anthraquinones, which are, interestingly enough, found
in some chemotherapy drugs.) Slippery elm contains high concentrations of fatty
acids. Many cough drops you buy in health food stores contain slippery elm. As
for sheep sorrel, there’s very little information about it in studies.
In 1959, Caisse began working in partnership with an
American physician, Dr. Charles Brusch. They added four herbs to the
recipe—watercress, blessed thistle, red clover and kelp. This 8-ingredient
mixture is marketed today under the name “Flor-Essence.” The original
4-ingredient recipe can still be found today under the original name.
Essiac was tested at Memorial Sloan Kettering and at the
National Cancer Institute in the U.S. It did not show any anti-cancer activity
Today, there are companies that sell what they call “Essiac
tea.” If you come across them as you search the Web for alternative treatments
for cancer, be extremely cautious. Remember that there have been no studies
proving that Essiac is effective. Also remember that even when people do take
Essiac, they continue with their traditional cancer treatment.
If you decide that you do want to try Essiac, talk with
your doctor about it. It’s always important for your doctor to know exactly what
you’re taking, because herbs can sometimes have harmful interactions with other
R. Moss, Cancer
Therapy, “Essiac Tea,” 1992; Journal of the Canadian Medical Association.
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