Mistletoe, or Viscum album is a semi-parasitic plant that grows on oaks and other trees in Europe and Asia. Mistletoe is also found in America and Korea, but normally only the European species is used in the treatment of cancer, inflammatory conditions and AIDS. The leaves, twigs, and berries are what is used to make these herbal medicines. Because the medicinal doses are small (it can be poisonous in large doses), many believe it to be "homeopathic," but it isn't.
Mistletoe was first proposed for the treatment of cancer in 1920 by Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian Swiss physician who founded the Society for Cancer Research to promote mistletoe extracts and anthroposophical medicine.
Mistletoe extracts are marketed under several trade names, such as Iscador, Helixor, Eurixor, and Isorel, most of which are available in Europe. Weleda AG manufactures Iscador., which consists of fermented extracts of mistletoe, sometimes combined with trace amounts of silver, copper or mercury. In the United States, any of these extracts must be prescribed by a physician. However, most doctors in the US do not use it. Though mistletoe is not commonly used in the United States, it is allowed by compassionate use. Physicians in the United States can order Iscador directly from European manufacturers. Oral/liquid mistletoe can be ordered by your physician by contacting Weleda AG through www.usa.weleda.com or by calling 800-241-1030.
For a list of clinical trials using mistletoe, go to: http://www.foreigntrials.com/trials_list.html.
Mistletoe preparations are used to stimulate the immune system, to kill cancer cells, and to help reduce tumor size. It may also help improve the quality of life and survival of some cancer patients, especially those using chemo and radiation, and may help reduce pain and side effects of these treatments. In addition, a German study done by Dr. Ronald Grossarth-Maticek of the Institute for Preventive Medicine in Heidelberg shows that, when used as adjunctive treatment in patients with a variety of cancers, it can increase survival time by as much as 40%.
A typical treatment course can last several months to years. The doses are gradually increased and adjusted depending on the patient's general condition, sex, age, and type of cancer. Mistletoe is typically given by subcutaneous injection, but it sometimes is injected directly into the tumor particularly on the liver, esophagus and cervix. It may also be taken orally in tumors of the brain and spinal cord.
What studies show:
In animal studies, mistletoe preparations have helped fight some forms of cancer. The best results with Iscador are claimed for its use with solid tumors both before and after surgery and radiation. Given 10 to 14 days before surgery, it is thought to help prevent metastatic spread due to surgery and to promote recovery and it is also used for advanced stage, inoperable solid tumors, especially cancers of the bladder, stomach, intestine, genital organs, and skin. It is also claimed that bone metastases are retarded in some cases. Results appear less promising for inoperable cancers of the breast, lungs and esophagus. It is thought that tumor growth slows or stops, and then gradual regression begins. It is believed that tumor cells are transformed first to a semi-malignant form, then to chronic inflammation and finally to normal tissue.
Mistletoe contains a cytotoxic lectin, viscumin. It also contains a number of cytotoxic proteins and polypetides (viscotoxins). Various lectins are both cytotoxic and immunostimulatory. It induces tumor necrosis, increases natural killer cell activity, increases production of interleukins 1 and 6; activates macrophages; induces programmed cell death (apoptosis), and protects DNA in normal cells during chemotherapy.
Side effects and possible risks:
Commercial mistletoe extracts generally have minimal side effects, but in rare cases allergic symptoms including anaphylactic reactions have been reported. It usually produces an increase in body temperature and flu-like symptoms. In addition, the injection site can become inflamed and abdominal pain with nausea may occur. Other side effects include: upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, fever, headaches, chest pain, and low blood pressure. Overdoses, however, can cause severe poisoning including seizures, coma and death. Even a few leaves or berries can cause poisoning, so never eat part of a mistletoe plant and keep the plants away from animals and children. In addition, because the preparation contains tyramine, patients on any type of monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor antidepressant should not take it. The combination can cause dangerously high blood pressure. People with heart problems should also be careful, since it raises blood pressure and accelerates the pulse. Therapy is normally discontinued in case of high temperature over 38ºC. Some research indicates Iscador injections should not be administered during the first days of the menstrual period. Seizures and death have been reported. This product should only be used in a closely supervised setting, and should not be used for normal consumption - reasons mistletoe products must be prescribed by a physician.
To avoid potential interactions, be sure to let your health care provider know if you use this or any other type of complementary therapy, and always take under the advice and supervision of a health practioner.
For research or books on iscador/mistletoe, go to Lukas Clinic website at http://www.lukasklinik.ch/English/Default1.htm. They use these products in their treatment programs. Or, go to www.sph.uth.tmc.edu/utcam/summary/mistletoe.htm or http://commonweal.org/herbs.html.