The most romantic plant of the holiday seasons may also have some health benefits. That evergreen, red-berried, bundle of twigs that hangs above the doors during the holidays has a cousin across the ocean. European white berried mistletoe grows in the UK, across europe and in East Asia. Historically, its been used in healing remedies for seizures, infertility, high blood pressure, headaches and arthritis (Ashpari, 2016);(“Mistletoe Extracts,”). But lately it’s being studied to treat cancer, HIV, Hep C, high blood pressure and seen in immune system support (“Mistletoe (European),” 2018).
Mistolet therapy is popular mostly in Europe.The prescription iscabor or Helixor is taken alongside chemotherapy. In fact, in Germany mistletoe injections are covered by health insurance (Ashpari, 2016). In the US, the FDA hasn’t recognized any therapeutic properties of mistletoe. But we are starting to do more clinical trials and research. So far, most of the clinical trial and studies have been done in Europe.
These trials suggest reduced tumor size, better quality of life, and higher survival rates in cancer patients. These and other reports say that mistletoe could support the immune system and have anticancer effects. The active ingredient linked to these mechanisms are called lectins or mistletoe lectins. In a test tube in lab, this part of the mistletoe plant was seen to help many different cells in the immune system. Also, some animal studies showed mistletoe to reduce tumor size (“Mistletoe (European),” 2018).
A lot of the studies and clinical trials have inaccurate results (Ashpari, 2016);(“European Mistletoe,” 2016). Either the studies were too small or too vague- missing information about dosing, methods and patient input. Which makes it hard to trust these findings. However, something noted through all these studies and some other high quality studies was improved quality of life for cancer patients.
High quality studies with more reliable results showed that mistletoe injections reduced the side effects of chemotherapy. Patients had less nausea and less numbness, their energy and skin color improved and they slept better. They even had less hair loss. Along with increased energy, patients also had improved emotional wellbeing. They worried less and felt more hopeful (Ashpari, 2016);(“Mistletoe Extract”). This heightened emotional well being could be related to the increased survival rates many other studies found.
SO DOES IT WORK? AND IS IT SAFE?
Maybe? Bottom line more research needs to be done and it needs to be done better. As of now the best, most reliable studies show that mistletoe injections can increase quality of life in cancer patients. It can lessen the side effects of chemotherapy and improve emotional well being. The NCCIH says that it doesn't have negative effect when combined with cancer drugs (2016).But they urge that more research is necessary, and it should only be used in clinical trials.
The FDA hasn't approved mistletoe as a treatment for cancer and it should not be self administered. Mistletoe berries and leaves are poisonous and can be harmful when taken orally (“European Mistletoe,” 2016). Overdosing can be happen easily and be harmful orally or intravenously. Making it extremely important to talk with a healthcare provider before starting anything on your own.
Although severe side effects are uncommon and usually based on dose, mild redness and inflammation at the injections site, fever and chills have also been noted. Mistletoe should not be taken while pregnant because some compounds are known to cause uterus contractions (“Mistletoe (European),” 2018).
Mistletoe in its prescription form is known as Isacador of Helixor. It is available across the UK, in the netherlands and switzerland, as mentioned before, it's also available in germany and covered under health insurance. It’s usually used alongside chemotherapy and seen to improve quality of life.
So although the jury isn't out on mistletoe quite yet, the future of this holiday kisser is promising. And since cancer is such a destructive disease, quality of life is a major characteristic in comfort. Which could improve healing, making it worth considering for future treatment.
Ashpari, Z. (2016, October 13). Can Mistletoe Help Treat Cancer? Retrieved from
European Mistletoe. (2016, December 16). Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/mistletoe
Mistletoe (European). (2018, August 21).Retrieved from https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/mistletoe-european
Mistletoe Extracts (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/mistletoe-pdq#link/_8
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