Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on the branches of other trees. In European folklore, mistletoe is considered magical, an aphrodisiac and symbol of fertility, and it has a long history as a medicinal plant. In the modern era, mistletoe extract is still used as a supplement and is purported to have an array of health benefits.
According to LiveandFeel.com, an online database of medicinal plants, mistletoe is antispasmodic, calming and stimulates the immune system. Mistletoe extract is typically used to treat convulsive coughing, bronchic asthma and asthmatic attacks.
It's calming properties ease the psychological tension caused by an asthamatics difficulty in drawing breath. In some cases, mistletoe is also used to treat epilepsy, hysteria, neurosis, dizziness, arterial hypertension, cardiac ischemia, hiccups, digestive and uterine cramps.
Mistletoe and Cancer
Proponents of mistletoe extract believe it also has cytostatic properties and can inhibit or suppress the growth or multiplication of cells. Part of this belief stems from the fact that mistletoe, like cancer, is a parasitic growth that will ultimately kill its host. For this reason, mistletoe extract is used by alternative medicine practitioners as a treatment for various forms of cancer. In addition to its alleged cytostatic properties, mistletoe is also used to reduce the negative effects of chemotherapy and to bolster the immune system of cancer patients, who often have weakened immune systems after bouts of chemotherapy.
Evidence of the effectiveness of mistletoe in treating coughs and cramps is primarily anecdotal, but the fact that it has been used in this capacity for hundreds of years seems to bolster these claims. Its effectiveness as a cancer treatment, however, is more controversial. According to a 2010 study published in the medical journal "Current Molecular Medicine," mistletoe's effectiveness as a cancer treatment in a clinical setting is not conclusively demonstrated. As the report states, "Implementation of mistletoe therapy as supportive care into anticancer programs should be based on the best evidence and must continually be evaluated to ensure safety, efficacy, collection of new data, and cost-effectiveness."
In some cases, treating cancer with mistletoe extract may actually promote cell growth instead of inhibiting it. A 2006 CBC News story describes the case of a 61-year-old Welsh woman, as reported in a British medical journal, who was admitted to the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff with a tumorlike growth under her skin, brought on by an injection of mistletoe extract. According to the article, random-controlled trials not only show no benefit to using mistletoe as a cancer treatment but mistletoe extract may have the potential to cause considerable harm, including anaphylaxis, breathing difficulties, joint pain and kidney failure. In addition, some studies suggest that mistletoe extract may even enhance the growth of some forms of cancer.
- Medical News Today: Mistletoe as Cancer Treatment: Review Calls Evidence Weak; April 2008
- "Current Molecular Medicine;" Molecular Mistletoe Therapy: Friend or Foe in Established Anti-Tumor Protocols? A Multicenter, Controlled, Retrospective Pharmaco-Epidemiological Study in Pancreas Cancer; H. Matthes et al.; June 2010
- CBC News; Don't Use Mistletoe Extracts to Fight Cancer, Doctors Advise; December 2006