What is Mistletoe?
Mistletoe is a semi-parasitic plant that receives it nourishment by growing on apple, birch, elm, maple, oak, pine and several other species of trees. It attaches itself and penetrates the branches of a tree or shrub with a structure called a haustorium, through which it absorbs water and nutrients from the host plant. Mistletoe has a plethora of medicinal applications that date back to Ancient Greece and has been used to treat medical conditions such as arthritis, epilepsy, hypertension, menopause and cancer.
The majority of the mistletoe extracts originate from Europe where they are sold under a variety of brand names including: Iscador (Iscar), Eurixor, Helixor, Isorel (Vysorel), Iscucin, Lektinol (Plenosol) and Abnoba-viscum. Iscador® is manufactured in Switzerland since 1917. The manufacturer/distributor refers to Iscador as a complementary medicine rather than as an alternative medicine, as it is often prescribed by European oncologists to be used in addition to the conventional cancer therapies of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Mistletoe’s actions are considered complex, however it is now recognized that at least one of its many benefits includes stimulating the immune system which assists in slowing down the growth of cancer cells. Many patients also report an improved quality of life such as feeling more positive, and needing less pain relief while taking it. Although it has been used successfully as a complementary treatment in other countries for many years, it has not been approved as a complementary cancer treatment in the USA due to lack of scientific testing.
Some health benefits of mistletoe include:
- Laboratory studies have shown that mistletoe extracts promote cell death. Phyto-nutrients, such as found in the extracts of mistletoe, have been shown to restore the capacity of cancer cells to die so that they don’t continue to grow unchecked.
- Mistletoe revs up the immune system’s cells and organs which is important in preventing cancer. Because of its potential therapeutic effects, mistletoe has been categorized as a biologic response modifier, which refers to its ability to fuel the body’s immunologic response.
- Mistletoe extracts have been shown to also target cancer cells by blocking the formation of new blood vessels in lab tests.
- Link to over 500 studies on Pubmed.gov regarding mistletoe and cancer
Recent Studies with mistletoe
At the University of Adelaide in Australia, scientists are studying how mistletoe extract could either assist chemotherapy, or act as an alternative agent for the treatment of colon cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer death in the Western world. In recent testing, Health Sciences student Zahra Lotfollahi has been comparing the effectiveness of three different types of mistletoe extracts on colon cancer cells and then testing the results against those obtained from chemotherapeutic agents. In her laboratory studies, she found that one of the mistletoe extracts – from a species known as Fraxini (commonly found on ash trees), appeared highly effective against colon cancer cells in cell culture and also appeared to be gentler on healthy intestinal cells than the chemotherapeutic agents. More significantly, this extract was even found to be more potent against cancer cells than the leading chemo-therapeutic agent.
Lotfollahi says, “This is an important result because we know that chemotherapy is effective at killing healthy cells as well as cancer cells. This can result in severe side effects for the patient, such as oral mucositis (ulcers in the mouth) and hair loss.” She adds, “Our laboratory studies have shown Fraxini mistletoe extract by itself to be highly effective at reducing the viability of colon cancer cells. At certain concentrations, Fraxini also increased the potency of chemotherapy against the cancer cells. Of the three extracts tested, and compared with chemotherapy, Fraxini was the only one that showed a reduced impact on healthy intestinal cells. This might mean that Fraxini is a potential candidate for increased toxicity against cancer, while also reducing potential side effects. However, more laboratory testing is needed to further validate this work,” Ms Lotfollahi added.
One of Ms Lotfollahi’s supervisors at the University of Adelaide, Professor Gordon Howarth, states that “Mistletoe extract has been considered a viable alternative therapy overseas for many years, but it’s important for us to understand the science behind it, although mistletoe grown on the ash tree was the most effective of the three extracts tested, there is a possibility that mistletoe grown on other, as yet untested, trees or plants could be even more effective. This is just the first important step in what we hope will lead to further research, and eventually clinical trials, of mistletoe extract in Australia.” Link to article
About Mistletoe and its use in cancer
Two women provide testimonials of using mistletoe for cancer
Angiogenesis – is a process in which new blood vessels are formed and is responsible for much of the growth and spread of cancer. Once a tumor grows to a certain size, the tumor sends chemical signals out that stimulate the growth of new blood vessels that carry the blood to it. If you can stop the tumor from receiving a blood supply, then the tumor can not grow and spread. The following supplements can interrupt the growth process of tumors and promote cancer cell death.
Natural killer cells –are lymphocytes of the immune system that control several types of tumors and microbial infections by limiting their spread and subsequent tissue damage. Supplements that support the function of Natural Killer Cells include: