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Essiac®

Synonyms/Common Names/Related Substances:

  • Essiac® is a registered combination product of four herbs including burdock root, sheep sorrel, slippery elm bark, and Turkey rhubarb. The exact formulation is a proprietary secret, and has been adjusted over the years. Different products originating from Essiac® have become popular in recent times. Flor-Essence® is a combination of the original four ingredients along with blessed thistle, red clover, kelp, and watercress. These additional ingredients were added to theoretically potentiate the original compound. Other commercial formulations include South American cat's claw bark, and Virginia's Herbal E-Tonic™, which contains the four original herbs along with echinacea and black walnut.
  • There are more than 40 essiac formulations available in the United Kingdom, Australia, and North America (1). Examples include: Essiac (Elaine Alexander's version used strictly as a nutritional product); Essiac (Dr. Gary Glum's version used for treating AIDS and cancer patients); and Essiac (Dr. Christopher's formula is used for treating cancer tumors, cysts, leukemia, etc.). Ms. Snow's Essiac is the only formulation with known ingredients (6.5 (measuring cup) ounces of cut burdock root, 16 (scale weight) ounces of powdered sheep sorrel herb, 4 (scale weight) ounces powdered slippery elm inner bark, and 1 (scale weight) ounce powdered Turkey rhubarb root). Because the trademarked Essiac® formula is unknown, many products may have "essiac" in their product names; in this monograph, only Caisse's original formula is noted as Essiac®, and all other preparations are referred to as essiac or essiac formulations.
  • Common names for burdock root: Akujitsu, anthraxivore, arctii, Arctium minus, Arctium tomentosa, bardana, Bardanae Radix, bardane, bardane grande (French), beggar's buttons, burdock root, burr, burr seed, chin, clotbur, clot-burr, cocklebur, cockle button, cocklebuttons, cuckold, daiki kishi, edible burdock, fox's clote, grass burdock, great bur, great burdock, great burdocks, gobo (Japan), grosse Klette (German), happy major, hardock, hare burr, hurrburr, Kletterwurzel (German), lampazo (Spanish), lappola, love leaves, niu bang zi, oil of lappa, personata, Philanthropium, thorny burr, Turkey burrseed, woo-bang-ja, wild gobo.
  • Common names for rhubarb: Baoshen pill, Canton rhubarb, Chinese rhubarb, chinesischer Rhabarber (German), chong-gi-huang, common rhubarb, da-huang, Da Huang, Da huang Liujingao, daio, English rhubarb, Extractum Rhei Liquidum, Himalayan rhubarb, Indian rhubarb, Japanese rhubarb, Jiang- Zhi Jian-Fel yao (JZJFY), Jinghuang tablet, medicinal rhubarb, pie rhubarb, Polygonaceae (family), Pyralvex, Pyralvex Berna, racine de rhubarbee (French), RET (rhubarb extract tablet), rhabarber, rhei radix, rhei rhizoma, rheum, Rheum australe, Rheum E, Rheum emodi, Rheum emodi Wall, Rheum officinale Baill, Rheum raponticum, Rheum rhaponticum, Rheum tanguticum Maxim, Rheum tanguticum Maxim. ex. Balf., Rheum tanguticum Maxim L., Rheum x cultorum, Rheum rhabarbarum, Rheum undulatum, Rheum webbianum (Indian or Himalayan rhubarb), rheirhubarbe de chine (French), rubarbo, ruibarbo (Spanish), shenshi rhubarb, tai huang, Turkey rhubarb, Turkish rhubarb.
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Clinical Bottom Line/Effectiveness

Brief Background:

  • Essiac contains a combination of herbs, including burdock root (Arctium lappa), sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), slippery elm inner bark (Ulmus fulva), and Turkey rhubarb (Rheum palmatum). Essiac herbal mixture is one of the most commonly used complementary therapies for cancer in Canada (2;3). A survey of 1,221 breast cancer survivors in Ontario, Canada, found 66.7% of respondents to have used complementary or alternative medicine (2). Essiac was among the top ten alternative agents used by 14.8% of the respondents. The Canadian Cancer Society Information Services found information on essiac to be among the top five questions asked by patients inquiring about complementary medicine (CAM) (3).
  • Rene Caisse first produced Essiac® in a home-based workshop. Shortly before her death in 1978, Caisse sold Essiac® to the Resperin Corporation of Ontario for one Canadian dollar. Although Essiac® is currently unavailable for sale in Canada, the Canadian Government allows Essiac® to be sold to patients on compassionate grounds. The majority of the information available on Essiac® is from anecdotal sources or testimonials. Neither Rene Caisse, nor her supporters, conducted clinical trials to validate the use of the formulation.
  • Recently, Essiac® has been manufactured and marketed by several different producers. Essiac® has been claimed to build the immune system, detoxify the body, remove heavy metals, restore energy levels, cleanse the blood, and promote cell repair. Essiac® has also gained popularity as a treatment for other chronic and incurable conditions including acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), diabetes, and thyroid disorders. However, evidence from clinical trials is lacking in these areas.
  • In general, there is a lack of both safety and efficacy data for Essiac® and essiac formulations. Adverse effects and toxicities may be anticipated based on theoretical or empirical knowledge of the individual constituents.

Dosing/Toxicology

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Precautions/Contraindications

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Interactions

Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.

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Mechanism of Action

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History

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Evidence Table

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Evidence Discussion

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Products Studied

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Author Information

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References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.