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Is Essiac Tea Beneficial for Those with Cancer?

Updated: Jan 30

What is Essiac Tea Used For?


Essiac is a popular herbal tea mixture that has been used by a number of individuals with cancer. It is often claimed to help with cancer, AIDS, diabetes and gastrointestinal diseases.


Have Studies of Essiac Been Done in Humans?

Currently, there is one human study from 2006 that was performed by the University of Michigan.[1] They found that essiac tea did not appear to help with quality of life or mood. In addition, patients using essiac had lower overall physical functioning compared to those who did not use essiac. That being said, this was an observational study, which can be hard to draw conclusions from. The bulk of research on essiac has been done in animal studies. Some of them suggest potential benefits while others do not. However, historically speaking, replicating animal studies in humans rarely yields the same results. At our clinic we prioritize therapies that have been studied in the context of cancer and shown to provide benefit and reach an acceptable level of safety in humans. Without enough research, it is difficult to know whether a treatment is safe or would provide benefit. As of January 2024, there have been several thousand human studies that have been completed in the field of natural medicines and in the context of cancer. One therapy with over 100 studies demonstrating its safety and benefits in the context of cancer is mistletoe therapy - you can read more about it here.


What is in Essiac Tea?

Essiac contains four main herbal ingredients:

  • Burdock root.

  • Indian rhubarb root.

  • Sheep sorrel.

  • Slippery elm (the inner bark).


Are There Any Side Effects to Essiac Tea?

There are not many reported side effects for essiac tea as its safety has not been widely studied. Some reported side effects from Essiac include nausea and vomiting. When it comes to natural products, teas can be relatively safe in the right context - but this depends on a person’s history and other medications. Our clinic uses a database of over 20,000 health products and medications to help cross check for any possible interactions between the therapies we use.


Concluding Remarks

The effectiveness and safety of essiac tea remain uncertain due to the limited number of human studies. While some animal studies suggest potential benefits, translating these findings to humans is difficult. Our clinic prioritizes cancer therapies with more extensive human research first - such as mistletoe therapy. While essiac tea is not usually recommended at our clinic, some patients may continue essiac tea if it is important to them and given that side effects appear relatively rare with a somewhat low likelihood of harm. It is recommended to always see a health professional to check for any interactions with other treatments before considering any natural therapies.

[1] Zick SM, Sen A, Feng Y, Green J, Olatunde S, Boon H. Trial of Essiac to ascertain its effect in women with breast cancer (TEA-BC). J Altern Complement Med. 2006 Dec;12(10):971-80. doi: 10.1089/acm.2006.12.971. PMID: 17212569.

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