As you’ve found this article, it’s fair to assume you know the benefits of healthy teas. For instance, green tea is known for its antioxidant content, which may make it liable to help in the fight against cancer.
Another tea which has been said to fight cancer is Essiac tea. But is it all it’s cracked up to be? Let’s look at the truth about Essiac tea, and whether you should add it to your cupboard of healthy teas.
Essiac Tea: The History
Essiac tea, since the 1920s, has been said to be a cancer-fighting power drink. It was first “prescribed” by nurse Rene Caisse, who claimed she’d been given the recipe by an Ontario Ojibwa patient.
The ingredients in Essiac tea include variations of the following ingredients:
- Sheep sorrel
- Slippery elm bark
- Turkey rhubarb
- Indian rhubarb
- Possibly others
Caisse claimed that it was told to her that the formula was a First Nations recipe, used to fight against cancer in those affected. However, there are some problems with this claim.
First of all, there’s no record of this particular blend ever having been used by Native American or First Nations peoples to fight, treat or prevent cancer. Secondly, several of the ingredients in Caisse’s blend aren’t indigenous to the Americas. For instance, burdock, sheep sorrel and Indian rhubarb are not American plants.
Finally, in the time since Caisse first concocted this tea, it’s actually been tested on laboratory animals. In many cases, large doses of Essiac tea caused the death of those animals.
Needless to say, you should be wary before you heed any claims that Essiac tea will help fight or prevent cancer.
Does Essiac Tea Have Health Benefits?
When considered individually, it may be that different ingredients of Essiac tea could possible have health benefits. Burdock, for instance, is said to improve digestion. Slippery elm bark is frequently used by midwives to relieve pain associated with pregnancy.
It’s important to note that supplements like Essiac tea aren’t usually evaluated by the FDA. However, because of the controversy historically surrounding Essiac tea, the FDA made an exception.
The American government did, in fact, publish several reports on Essiac tea – each of those reports was a warning to consumers. The Food and Drug Administration used such terms to describe Essiac tea as, “a cruel deception” and an “illegal cancer treatment.”
That said, it’s not illegal to possess or even sell Essiac tea. The tea isn’t restricted in any way by the government; you can drink as much as you wish. It is, however, illegal to market the product as a cancer treatment.
With that having been said, it’s not entirely clear why a consumer would want drink Essiac tea. We make that assertion because, in some trials, Essiac tea was actually found to increase the risk of cancer. As recently as 2004, studies have shown that Essiac tea increases the growth of prostate cancer cells.
Testing of Essiac tea was first conducted in Canada, after Rene Caisse gave the formula to a Canadian company in 1977. Since then, the tea has become controversial and has been tested worldwide. All results are the same – Essiac tea is not a cure for cancer.
Is Essiac Tea Safe to Drink?
Again, laboratory rats were killed by drinking too much Essiac tea. However, it’s not clear as to how higher than recommended doses of Essiac tea will affect humans. Testing on human subjects in this way hasn’t been conducted, as most government agencies have deemed the tea useless as a drug.
You can buy Essiac tea online and at many local retailers. Each blend might be slightly different, but all will contain the same basic ingredients. Let’s take a quick look at the toxicity of each ingredient.
- Slippery elm bark is very safe to ingest, though after time will take on a bit of a bitter taste.
- Sheep sorrel is non-toxic, and is actually an edible, nutritious plant.
- Burdock is non-toxic, but can often be confused with foxglove, which is.
- Some parts of Indian rhubarb are toxic to humans. It’s also said the plant becomes toxic after freezing, or after a frost.
- The leaves of Turkey rhubarb are toxic to humans.
Keep in mind, as you review the toxicity of these plants, that the rules above only apply to humans. Earlier we noted lab rats died after consuming too much Essiac tea. This could be because the tea itself is toxic. Or, it could be that certain of the ingredients are toxic to animals.
Regardless, be sure to chat with a doctor before you take Essiac tea. Together you can determine if potential benefits of the tea outweight the potential concerns.
Does Essiac Tea Fight Cancer?
As you know by now, Essiac tea does not help fight cancer. It does not help prevent cancer. And in some cases it may actually make cancer cells grow.
Sadly, that doesn’t prevent “the internet” from saying otherwise. A search for Essiac tea, or the health benefits of Essiac tea, will inevitable bring back results claiming the tea is a proven cancer fighter.
We can’t argue with countless government tests. Simply put, if the FDA says it’s a scam, we’re going to roll with it. You’re more than welcome to discuss the benefits of Essiac tea with your oncologist to determine if it’s a good option for you. We can’t recommend it here.
With that having been said, there are teas which are better known to fight cancer and provide great health benefits. Green tea, as mentioned earlier, has great antioxidant properties and has been shown to help prevent and fight cancer. Black teas may, as well.
Some herbs you’ll find blended with teas also may help fight cancer. Echinacea, for instance, is being researched for its abilities against brain tumors. Goldenseal, too, may be found in some teas. Goldenseal is thought to help prevent cancer.
In short, if you’re looking for a cancer-fighting tea, we recommend you steer clear of Essiac tea. It’s just not a proven remedy for prevention of or treatment of cancer. Instead, try sideritis, lemon verbena or even rooibos.