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‘Essiac’ (Caisse in reverse) is a herbal tea used by Canadian nurse Rene Caisse in her clinic in the 1930s, ostensibly to cure cancer. She had supposedly got the recipe from a woman who claimed to have been cured by an Ontario Indian medicine man many years earlier.

Caisse believed that the tea (which was not called essiac at this time) alleviated pain and observed that it appeared to cause cancerous tumours to soften and sometimes to erupt through the skin in pus-like discharges. Her view was that, even if it doesn't actually cure cancer, it did afford significant relief and so was a worthwhile treatment for cancer patients.

The clinic she set up to administer the herbal tea was free, and in 1938 supporters tried to win Government approval for her work. This failed in the Canadian parliament by three votes. Doctors had petitioned the Canadian federal health department as early as 1926 asking that Caisse be allowed to test her ‘cancer remedy’ on a broad scale. In their signed petition they testified that the herbal treatment reduced tumour size and increased life expectancy. This is one of the few instances where medical and other supporters went further than the originator of a substance in their claims of effectiveness.

However, as seems to be the case in many similar instances, this ‘grass roots’ enthusiasm was not shared by those further up the pharmaceutical food chain. Caisse was soon hounded by officials and eventually, in 1942 she shut her clinic, fearing arrest by the ‘authorities’. She continued to treat patients at home but no longer advertised her treatment as before. In 1959 (she was then 70) she responded to an invitation and treated cancer patients with the herbal tea under the watchful eye of 18 doctors at the Brusch Medical Centre in Massachusetts. Whilst working with Dr Brusch between 1959 and 1978, Caisse added four other herbs to the original formula, and it was at this time that the ‘improved’ formula became known as essiac.

Dr Charles Brush, who treated President Kennedy amongst other members of New England's elite, reported in 1991 that he had been taking Caisse's formula since 1984 when he himself had cancer operations.

Essiac Formula

The original essiac formula consists of:

Burdock root - An established ‘blood purifier’ which has been reported by Hungarian and Japanese scientists to decrease cell mutation and inhibit tumours. This may be due to the relatively high selenium content.

Sheep Sorrel - A traditional Indian remedy for everything from eczema to ringworm. Sheep sorrel has been shown to have a significant beneficial effect in herpes, ulcers and cancer seemingly by stimulating the endocrine system.

Slippery Elm - This herb has a healing effect on the lungs and internal organs. It also helps reduce production of acidic metabolic wastes in the body. It is rich in calcium, magnesium and various vitamins.

Indian Rhubarb - A traditional ‘cleanser’ of the liver and intestinal system. It has been shown to improve oxygen transport throughout the body, and has antibiotic and anti-yeast activity, and is anti-inflammatory. Studies carried out in 1980 studies showed that an extract had clear anti-tumour activity.

The four additions which complete the ‘essiac’ formula are:

Watercress - A strong antioxidant herb containing bioflavonoids and high levels of vitamin C.

Blessed Thistle - A herbal ‘blood purifier’ with and immune enhancing properties.

Red Clover - Described by Hippocrates. An extract of the flowers is currently undergoing tests for breast cancer control following positive in vitro tests on cancer cells.

Kelp - Kelp is a strong provider of natural minerals especially iron and calcium in an organic and easily assimilated form. Kelp is anti-bacterial and sea vegetables, in general, help reduce acidity in the body thus improving immune function.

Nurse Caisse recommended 12 - 13 cups of the infusion per day, although there are several reports of it being administered by injection. Shortly before she died she sold the 'secret' formula to the company Resperin.

The ingredients of essiac, if nothing else, make it an excellent all round immune system booster, but without proper clinical trials it is impossible to come to any definitive conclusion about its true anti-cancer activity, despite the strong anecdotal evidence in its support. Unfortunately for cancer sufferers, there would be little profit in the formulation even if it could be shown to be effective, and so no serious research has been carried out, and the more or less automatic debunking process has been in evidence for many years.

Despite various attempts to make its use illegal (and in view of the absolute safety record of the ‘tea’ one would have to wonder why this is) various forms of ‘essiac’ are quite widely available through the internet. As these are relatively inexpensive, it remains open to anyone to at least try out the remedy. However, while there is probably little harm in using essiac tea, no one should rely on it as a cure for cancer - for the moment at least, the evidence simply isn't available.

(If you have personal experience of using essiac, we would like to hear from you with a view to adding your story to this page. Please email us using the ‘contact’ link on this page.)



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