Essiac Tea: Rene Caisse's Alleged Cancer Cure
What is Essiac Tea?
This article discusses the history of Essiac tea and whether it has any value as an alternative cancer therapy.
Essiac Tea is the name given to a purportedly cancer-fighting tea made from a variety of herbs which a Canadian nurse named Rene Caisse claimed she had learned from a Native American medicine man.
The name Essiac is derived from the last name of Rene Caisse (Caisse spelled backward is Essiac) who first brought this compound to the world's attention.
As discussed further below, the exact formulation of essiac tea is not known, and there are different varieties using different ingredients, but all claiming to be the true formula.
Caisse alleged that her tea cured cancer and during her lifetime treated hundreds of patients with her herbal preparation. She was prosecuted by the Canadian government for practicing medicine without a license. Later efforts to commercialize essiac tea as a cancer drug failed when medical research showed that it was ineffective. Despite the lack of scientific evidence in support of claims that Caisse's formulation fights cancer, many desperate cancer patients still turn to it for treatment.
The Discovey of Essiac Tea
The story of essiac tea is very colorful and dramatic. In the 1930s a Canadian nurse named Rene Caisse began treating cancer patients using a tea made from local herbs and plants. Caisse claimed that the recipe originated with an Indian medicine man of the Ojibway Nation and that she had obtained the secret from a woman who had been cured of breast cancer by this medicine man. At the time, the tea was not known as essiac tea; that name was given to it later in an effort to commercialize it.
Caisse claimed that after acquiring the recipe she tried it on her aunt, who was terminally ill with stomach cancer. The aunt recovered.
Caisse then began treating patients with this tea, and it is claimed that hundreds were cured. As her reputation spread, people came from all over to try the essiac tea. The medical establishment was skeptical, but some doctors who came and observed her clinic went away convinced.
Dr. Benjamin Guyatt Leslie, head of the department of anatomy at the University of Toronto, at the time stated:
"I could see that in most cases, the strains disappearing, patients complaining of a strong decrease in pain. In very serious cases of cancer I have seen the most severe stop the bleeding. Open ulcers on the lips and breast responded to treatment. I have seen cancer disappear from the bladder, rectum, cervix and stomach. I can testify that the drink contains health in the sick person, destroying the cancer, returning the will to live and the normal functions of the organs."
Doctor Emma Carlson, from California, stated:
"I came pretty skeptical, and I was determined to stay only 24 hours. I stayed 24 days and I witnessed incredible improvements of terminally ill patients diagnosed with no more hope and terminals, to heal. I examined the results of 400 patients "
The Legal Controversy
As a nurse, Caisse was in danger of being prosecuted for practicing medicine, something which only a doctor can do. Caisse and her supporters petitioned the government for special permission to allow Renee Caisse to carry on her cancer therapy. In 1938 a special act was presented in the legislature entitled "An Act to Authorize Rene Caisse to Practice Medicine in the Province of Ontario in the Treatment of Cancer and the Conditions Resulting Therefrom."
The bill was supported by a petition signed by over 55,000 people including hundreds of patients who claimed to have been cured by Renee Caisse's tea, as well as doctors who believed in her. The bill failed to pass by only 3 votes.
After that the Canadian government set up a Cancer Commission to hear testimony and evidence concerning the effectiveness of the treatment. Caisse wished to present the testimony of hundreds of patients and doctors, but the commission heard from only some before quickly concluding that the treatment did not work. The Cancer Commission concluded that the patients who were alleged to have been cured had likely been misdiagnosed and had never had cancer at all.
As a result, it became harder for Caisse to carry out what she believed to be a useful fight against cancer. She died on December 26, 1978, at the age of 90. Today a number of companies sell what is alleged to be the correct formulation of herbs. The most well known is sold under the name essiac tea, though there are other companies that also claim to sell a tea made from the original Caisse recipe.
How to Make Your Own Essiac Tea
For financial and perhaps other reasons, Caisse did not disclose the exact formulation of her tea. As a result, it is possible that the cure for cancer died with Caisse.
Despite the fact we do not know exactly what was in her tea, the general consensus is that it contained at least the following ingredients:
- Burdock root.
- Indian rhubarb root.
- Sheep sorrel.
- Slippery elm (the inner bark).
Other formulations also sometimes contain:
- Blessed thistle.
- Red clover.
It is claimed by some that these herbs strengthen the immune system and have anti-cancer properties. Sorrel is claimed to have excellent cleansing properties. Burdock root is said to be rich in vitamins, minerals, and that it is also cleansing to the liver, lungs, and kidneys. The Rheum Palmatum is the root of rhubarb and some naturopaths claim that it has the ability to remove the viscous substance that surrounds the tumor cells, thus allowing the passage of the active ingredients of the herbs. The slippery elm bark is claimed by natural health practitioners to have protective properties for tissues and organs and to be an excellent anti-inflammatory. The other ingredients are believed to also have cancer-fighting properties.
As the video below demonstrates, it is possible to make your own version of Caisse's tea by mixing these ingredients together.
Does Essiac Cure Cancer?
The combination of herbs now sold as essiac tea cannot be marketed as a cancer cure because the compound does not have FDA or other regulatory approval as a drug nor has it ever been shown to be effective in any clinical study. As a result, Essiac tea is sold as a health supplement, and without any health claims except that the name Essiac conveys an implied connection to Rene Caisse's formula which is a marketing ploy by some manufacturers, who target people suffering from cancer who choose to self medicate and use it for Caisse's original purpose.
Despite the large number of people who claimed to have benefited from Caisse's formula, the medical establishment does not accept that the formula developed by Renee Caisse is effective in treating cancer. The website known as QuackWatch.org lists essiac as one of many "questionable cancer therapies."
According to the National Cancer Institute, there have been a few medical trials with the following results:
In the mid 1970s, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center tested the compound on mice and concluded that it was ineffective.
In the early 1980s, researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Essiac again. Once again they concluded that the combination of herbs did not fight cancer.
In 1983, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) tested a liquid sample of Essiac on mice with leukemia and found that it had no effect. At high doses, the tea killed the mice. However the researchers reached no conclusion as to whether the tea would be in any way harmful to humans.
In 2004, a laboratory study at Indiana University-Purdue University found that Essiac slowed the growth of prostate cancer cells. It is my understanding that this test was conducted on cancer cells in a petri dish and not on humans.
In 2004 a study using the formulation created by Flor Essence, which also markets a tea said to be derived from Caisse's formula, was found to increase the growth of breast cancer in rats.
There have been no tests on humans and these results are inconclusive at best. However according to the National Cancer Institute animal studies on the separate components of the essiac formulation suggest that some of the chemicals in these herbs may prevent (not cure) cell damage that can lead to cancer, reduce swelling, redness, and pain, have an effect on the body similar to the hormone estrogen and kill cancer cells.
Given the large number of people that reported that they benefited from her treatment, I am surprised that there has not been more of an attempt to study the formula, especially since some small studies have reported antitumor activity. I am not suggesting that the formula works, but I wonder if some of the lack of interest comes from the fact that the herbal tea comes from an aboriginal person and then was promoted by a woman nurse. I suspect that the origins of the formula made the medical establishment dismiss the tea out of hand. In their minds, there is no way that an uneducated medicine man and a nurse could have discovered what has eluded scientific men for so long. Renee Caisse once said: if apple cider vinegar was ever found to cure cancer, it would be illegal.
In 2007 a study conducted by the The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and published in Anticancer Research. 2007 Nov-Dec;27(6B):3875-82 concluded that "Essiac indicates significant antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties, as well as neoplastic cell specific cytotoxicity consistent with the historical properties ascribed to this compound."
However these findings were contradicted by a study conducted at the University of Toronoto's Faculty of Medicine, into the effectiveness of essiac tea which concluded that: " did not significantly demonstrate its purported physiological modifying effects.": Anticancer Res. 2006 Jul-Aug;26(4B):3057-63
It seems therefore that the effectiveness of essiac tea in treating cancer has not been determined conclusively. Much more research will be needed to establish once and for all if a Canadian nurse in the thirties actually found the cure for cancer. I suspect however that as in the case of many other natural remedies, the necessary studies will never be carried out due to lack of funding or lack of scientific interest and so a potential cure will remain untested.
All product and company names shown may be trademarks of their respective owners.
The information in this article is presented solely for discussion purposes. The author does not recommend the use of any product. Nothing in this article is intended to treat or diagnose any disease. Essiac tea is not approved as a cancer drug and is sold only as a health supplement.
If you had Cancer, would you try Essiac Tea?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.