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February 8, 2001

Alternative Therapies and Explanations

Question from Webster, New Hampshire, USA:

I have done some reading regarding "essiac" and how this has cured many people of cancer and two people of type 1 diabetes. I would like to know if anyone has looked into this product to see and test it in people with diabetes. This would be a natural way to treat and maybe cure diabetes, if in fact it worked. I am sure the medical community is trying there best to find a cure, but I also want to make sure they are looking in other directions other than islet cell transplants and stem cell transplants.


Essiac is an herbal tea containing four relatively common herbs: sheep sorrel, burdock root, slippery elm bark and turkey rhubarb.”Essiac” is the backward spelling of the last name of the Canadian nurse who first promoted it early in this century — Madame Rene Caisse. The formula is said to have been taken from an Indian medicine man. There are no controlled clinical trials of its use to my knowledge. It is widely promoted as helpful to cancer treatment by many alternative medicine practitioners, publications and sites, although all the stories of cure are, to my knowledge, anecdotal and not the result of controlled testing. I personally know of no current controlled trials of this preparation for the treatment, management or cure of diabetes.

Many herbal preparations have some effect on blood sugar levels. If you choose to try this product, get a good pattern of your blood sugars before beginning and then compare results while taking the tea. Because two of the herbs (sheep sorrel and turkey rhubarb) in this tea are high in oxalic acid, it is probably not a good choice for people who have kidney stones or a history of other kidney problems.

Additional comments from Dr. Donough O’Brien:

Essiac is a herbal remedy used mostly by people with cancer. It has no demonstrated value in diabetes other than placebo effect. The alleged “cures” in type 1 diabetes could well have been in type 1B cases that would have become insulin independent anyway. See: Tamayo C, Richardson MA, Diamond S, Skoda I, The chemistry and biological activity of herbs used in Flor-Essence herbal tonic and Essiac.