Since its adoption and promotion by Canadian nurse Rene Caisse nearly 100 years ago, Essiac has become popularly used for several reported health benefits. The herbal mixture’s most widely publicized health-related use is as cancer treatment, whether as adjunctive therapy to standard chemotherapy regimens or as comfort care for patients with terminal cases. The list of essiac tea benefits is long. In addition to its reported benefits in cancer, Essiac is also known for its usefulness in detoxification and immune system strengthening.
The original four-herb recipe contained:
• Burdock root (Rheum palmatum),
• Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella),
• Slippery elm bark (Ulmus fulva),
• Turkey rhubarb (Rheum pamatum).
Laboratory experiments have shown that these individual ingredients possess several important biochemical properties, such as antioxidant, immunostimulant, and anti-inflammatory effects.
When the Essiac mixture was originally formulated by a Canadian First Nations healer an unknown number of years ago, it was intended to purify the body and maintain balance between body and spirit. In accordance with this, Essiac is frequently used for its antioxidant properties.
An antioxidant is a substance that prevents the generation and actions of free radicals, which are harmful byproducts produced by the body during the breakdown of food for energy or when the body is exposed to environmental toxins, such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, or radiation.
Scavenging of free radicals by antioxidants is important because the chemical instability of free radicals leads to cellular damage, which can lead to cell death, or even worse, cell injury and DNA damage, which is then propagated through that mutated cell’s replications. This can lead to accelerated and abnormal growth, which are precursors to cancer. Well-known antioxidants include, but are definitely not limited to:
• Vitamin A
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin E
All of these mentioned antioxidants and many more are found in the individual ingredients in Essiac.
The first comprehensive laboratory investigation of Essiac was published by Seely et al in the International Journal of Cancer Research and Treatment in 2007, and among the study’s findings was a statistically significant antioxidant effect. Researchers involved in this study used a commercially available kit for measuring antioxidant activity, and found that Essiac has a several-times greater antioxidant activity than known antioxidants such as red wine, green tea, black tea, and cocoa. These antioxidant effects are likely related to Essiac’s reported usefulness in cancer, prevention of cardiovascular disease, decreasing risk of age-related eye disease, promoting brain health, and general health maintenance.
Immune Strengthening Effects
The immune system acts as the body’s defense against infection, but is also important in the recognition and prevention of the progression of cancer. Another well-promoted use of Essiac is as an immunostimulant, or immune system strengthener. Related to this effect on the immune system is Essiac’s reported anti-inflammatory effect.
The research study previously mentioned also examined the immune strengthening effects of Essiac. Researchers found a significant increase in the activity of several immune system cells when exposed to Essiac; however, there was no direct bacterial killing observed in this study. Interestingly, though, previous studies have shown that Essiac tincture (as opposed to Essiac tea) possesses weak to moderate anti-bacterial activity against several organisms important in human disease, including Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. Specifically, burdock root has been shown to have antibacterial and fungistatic activity, while also inhibiting the release of pro-inflammatory molecules.
Because of it immune strengthening effects, Essiac is commonly used for treating pain and swelling associated with generalized inflammation (such as that associated with arthritis and respiratory tract infections), HIV/AIDS, other infections, and cancer.
Due to the unique properties of the individual herbs in Essiac, in addition to the enhanced properties when the herbs are mixed together in the correct concentrations, Essiac tea benefits the body in many ways, including notable antioxidant and immune strengthening properties, both of which are valuable in the therapy of a myriad of health conditions.