Mistletoe: Can It Cure Cancer?
Some studies say this magical plant has benefits other than kisses.
That lovely little plant you kiss under during Christmas? Well, it appears it has some incredible medical benefits, according to research.
Why you shouldn't eat mistletoe berries
Sure, the mistletoe is great for those seeking stealthy kisses, but the plant actually contains a variety of chemicals, such as phenylpropanoids and lectins, the Independent
writes; "mistletoe [extract has] a number of pharmacological properties including stimulation of the immune system and direct toxic effects on tumor cells." Since the 1920s, many have used the plant to treat cancer, epilepsy, infertility, menopausal symptoms, nervous tension, asthma, hypertension, headache, and dermatitis.
For people undergoing cancer treatments
In Europe, the semi-poisonous plant is "regularly prescribed for various types of cancers as its extract demonstrates anti-cancer activity when used against cancerous cells in the lab," Fox News
reports. Mistletoe extract enhances immune function, which increases the production of the immune cells. When administered as a form of therapy for cancer, the extracts are given by injection under the skin, into a vein or directly into a tumor.
Studies in Europe
The mistletoe has demonstrated efficacy against cancer in a particular German study where researchers examined the use of the mistletoe extract brand Iscador. The researchers used Iscador in 800 patients with colorectal cancer who were all treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. As Fox writes, "Researchers found the patients treated with Iscador had fewer adverse events, better symptom relief and improved disease-free survival compared to patients who did not receive the mistletoe extract as adjuvant therapy."
A chemo combo?
A 2002 clinical study from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) combined mistletoe extract (Helixor A) with chemotherapeutic drug gemcitabine in patients with advanced solid tumors. Results show that the combination produced low toxicity and health benefits in almost half the patients. In this case, mistletoe demonstrated its value as an adjuvant, helping to modify the chemotherapy.
The bottom line
American critics have been dismissive about medical studies of the plant, calling the studies too small or improperly designed. The FDA does not recognize the use of mistletoe to treat any form of cancer, and injectable mistletoe extracts cannot be sold in the U.S, Fox reports.
A short medical history of the mistletoe
The mistletoe grows apple, oak, elm and pine trues and was regarded as a cure-all by the Druids and the ancient Greeks. The plant has been used for centuries in European herbalism for treating epilepsy, hypertension, headaches, menopausal symptoms, infertility, arthritis and rheumatism.
Why we kiss under the mistletoe
There are many theories on this custom. As The Independent explains, the mistletoe can be traced back to pagan times, as boughs of plant helps hung to ward off evil spirits and promote fertility. Kissing was just an extension of this. The tradition may also have come from Norse mythology and Scandinavian custom in the legend of Baldur and Loki, where a mistletoe spear was used to kill Baldur. Per folklore, the mistletoe thus bring love in to the world, not death.
Do you kiss under the mistletoe?