Essiac came to the public eye through the tireless work of Canadian nurse Rene Caisse, who used Essiac to treat cancer patients for over 50 years with a plethora of reported successful cases.
During her decades of work with Essaic, Caisse exclusively used the mixture in tea form, with the exception of intramuscular injection of the sheep sorrel component in earlier years. As more and more people use Essiac, though, other forms of ingesting the herbs began to appear on the market, namely tinctures/tonics and capsules. And while consumers now have the freedom to choose among these different forms, one must be aware of the different advantages and disadvantages associated with them
Advantages of Essiac Capsules
Most people would agree that taking Essiac in capsule form is the most convenient way to ingest the herbs. This is arguably the most compelling reason to pick capsules over other forms. Both teas and tinctures require some degree of measuring a dose of Essiac and mixing with water or another beverage, whereas capsules can be taken straight from the bottle. Like tinctures, capsules have the advantage over tea of being conveniently stored due to their small volume and no need for refrigeration. Capsules are also especially suited for continuing Essiac use when traveling.
Disadvantages of Essiac Capsules
The benefits derived from Essiac depend on the bioavailability of the molecules contained in the constituent herbs. In other words, the molecules must be extracted from the herbs in some manner. In order to release the biologically helpful molecules from the herbs in Essiac (or any herbal mixture), the herbs must be immersed in some type of solvent, typically water and/or alcohol. With teas, the molecules are extracted by boiling in water. With tinctures, this process occurs by steeping the herbs in alcohol for days to weeks. With capsules, there is no extraction prior to ingestion of the Essiac.
Essiac capsules rely on extraction through exposure of the capsules to stomach acids, digestive enzymes, and oral water intake. Many believe that this results in a decreased absorption of important compounds and decreased potency for capsules. In addition to this, all of the constituent herbs that go into capsules are in powder form, which typically decreases potency if its has been a long period of time since the herbs were pulverized. One possible solution to this problem of unknown amount of time since powdering of the herbs is to create one’s own capsules from scratch, which is possible with supplies at standard health stores. Many people who are willing to make their own capsules are more likely to do so mainly for use while traveling, when they often empty the capsule contents into boiled water to make a tea.
There are also many Essiac devotees who are opposed to any form other than the traditional tea. From their perspective, the decades of positive outcomes experienced by Caisse were the product solely of tea, and thus Essiac consumers should remain faithful to that form. Any evidence for Essiac’s efficacy comes from research and use of the tea, whereas the tinctures and capsules are relatively unstudied. Even so, for reasonably healthy people, it’s a convenient way to ingest the beneficial herbs.
Essiac comes in several forms, from the well-studied, traditional tea, to tinctures, to capsules. While capsules are arguably the most convenient form, they are also subject to concerns regarding their potency and ability to provide the key compounds responsible for Essiac’s proposed health benefits.