A liquid extract containing key medicinal components of the mistletoe plant has also been used for decades to treat cancer, mainly in Europe and parts of Asia. In the USA, the FDA has not approved the use of mistletoe.
There are several species of mistletoe, including Viscum album (European mistletoe) and Viscum album coloratum (Korean mistletoe), which are used medicinally. All mistletoe species live on trees as semi-parasites, meaning they draw water and minerals from the host tree like oak, apple, elm, pine, birch, and maple. The American Mistletoe Phoradendron serotinum is not used for such purposes.
Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner introduced the idea of using mistletoe in 1916 as part of a system of thought called “anthroposophy.” He believed tumors represent an error in the regulation of the physical or spiritual body. Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman are the founders of Anthroposophic Medicine. In Steiner’s view, just as mistletoe is a parasite on a host tree, so is cancer a parasite on the human body. Following homeopathic principles of “like cures like” and applying his own version of homeopathic dilution and potentization (the more diluted the substance the more potent it becomes) he felt that tiny doses of the poisonous mistletoe plant could stimulate the body to rectify its so-called “error” in producing malignant tumors and coax the body back to a state of equilibrium and regulate the area where tumors had been allowed to develop.
There are a few companies manufacturing Mistletoe components:
Iscado and Iscar are lactobacillus-fermented extract of the European mistletoe plant, Viscum album. Helixor is also a preparation from the European Mistletoe
The evidence for mistletoe’s effectiveness in treating cancer is based on subcutaneous injections. Sometimes, other ways of administering are used such as intravenous, into the tumor itself, in the pleural space or bladder. Oral administration has not proven to be effective. Keep in mind this plant is poisonous.
Several pharmacologically active compounds have been isolated from mistletoe: lectins (cause apoptosis or death of the cancer cells), viscotoxins (induce necrotic cell death), oligo- and polysaccharides, lipophilic extracts and various others. Currently triterpenes are gaining great interest. The most prominent properties are their cytotoxic (killing the cancer cell) and growth-inhibiting effects, in vitro, on a variety of human tumor cell lines, lymphocytes and fibroblasts . The cytotoxic effects are mainly due to the apoptosis-inducing mistletoe lectins (20-22), while the viscotoxins induce necrotic cell death (21, 23). They are also recognized for their immune-modulating activity: in vitro and in vivo studies have demonstrated activation of monocytes/macrophages, granulocytes, natural killer (NK) cells, NK-cell mediated tumor cell lysis, T-cells (especially T-helper-cells) and the induction of various cytokines (6, 7, 24). It also downregulate tumor genes, reduce motility and invasiveness of tumor cells, and show antiangiogenetic effects (stops growth of new blood vessels at tumor site). They also possess DNA stabilizing properties, reduce chromosome damage and improve DNA repair.
How does it work:
- stimulates the immune system (activation of monocytes/macrophages, granulocytes, natural killer (NK) cells, NK-cell mediated tumor cell lysis, T-cells (especially T-helper-cells) and the induction of various cytokines (6, 7, 24).
- kills cancer cells through apoptosis (cell suicide) and necrotic cell death
- help reduce tumor size
- downregulate tumor genes
- reduce motility and invasiveness of tumor cells
- stabilizes the DNA, reduce chromosome damage and improve DNA repair
- inhibits the growth of new vessels at the tumor site (neovascularization)
- improve the quality of life and survival of some cancer patients, especially those using chemo and radiation
- help reduce pain and side effects associated with the chemo and radiation treatments
Effectiveness seems to depend on the duration of the mistletoe therapy, in addition to factors relating to dosage, host tree and choice of preparation. The best results are claimed for its use with solid tumors.
- No MAOI because the preparation contains tyramine, it can cause dangerously high blood pressure
- Because mistletoe can lower blood pressure, avoid taking it with a blood pressure-lowering drug because your blood pressure could dip dangerously low under such circumstances.
- Mistletoe should not be used along with heart medicines; the combination creates an increased risk of cardiac slow-down.
- acute inflammatory diseases or high fever: treatment should be discontinued until the signs of inflammation subside
- chronic granulomatous diseases
- Because mistletoe can cause sedation, don’t take it along with other medications that depress the central nervous system, such as anesthetics, hypnotics and sedatives, narcotics, and tranquilizers.
- If you are pregnant: some mistletoe compounds can stimulate the uterus to contract, which can increase abortion risk.
- If you are taking cytochrome P450 3A4 substrate drugs. Lab studies
- suggest mistletoe may increase the risk of side effects of these drugs. However, this effect appears to happen only at higher doses, and clinical relevance has yet to be determined.
- florid autoimmune diseases and those under immunosuppressive therapy
- hyperthyroidism with tachycardia.
- mistletoe therapy is not recommended for cancers which originate from the immune system (e.g. leukemias, lymphomas)
- do not inject into inflamed skin, including skin affected by radiation treatment
Possible Side Effects
- 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.
- the injection site can become inflamed and abdominal pain with nausea may occur.
- upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea
- chills, fever,
- headaches and dizziness,
- chest pain
- low blood pressure.
- overdoses 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
- 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 injections should not be administered during the first days of the menstrual period.
- sometimes there is a skin sensitivity reaction, especially with sun-exposure. Severe reactions are said to have occurred with the use of methotrexate but unclear if mistletoe was responsible or methotrexate was.
- reactivation of previously existing inflammations is possible. In such cases a temporary discontinuation of treatment is necessary until the inflammatory reaction subsides
Apart from the reactions associated with the therapy, local or systemic allergic or allergoid reactions may occur (normally as generalized pruritus, urticaria or exanthema, even as Quincke’s edema, chills, dyspnea and bronchospasm, sporadically with shock or as erythema exsudativum multiforme) which require discontinuation of the preparation and, need urgently appropriate, medical treatment
With regards, possible interaction with chemotherapy, two studies with 5-year follow-ups of breast cancer patients, mistletoe therapy did not appear to have a negative impact on chemotherapy efficacy and appeared to contribute reducing disease/therapy-related sign and symptoms (e.g. mucositis, fatigue, pain, headache). The addition of mistletoe extract in patients with advanced solid tumors allowed for higher gemcitabine doses to be used without apparent pharmacokinetic interactions.
Optimal response can be recognized by at least one of the following reactions.
- improvement of subjective state of health
- an improvement of general condition like increase in appetite and body weight
- normalization of sleep
- sensation of warmth
- improved performance and mental state
- brightening of mood, increase in courage to face life and taking of initiative
- alleviation of pain conditions
- increase in body temperature after about 5 hours after injection of approx. 0.5°C (0.9°F)
- improvement of immunological reaction (absolute lymphocytes/NK CD 16/56)
- local inflammatory reaction with a maximum diameter of 5 cm. also with induration, itching, swelling or local hyperthermia; these reactions generally disappear spontaneously after one or two days. But the absence of a local reaction is not a sign of reduced efficacy.
- lassitude, shivering, a general feeling of unwellness, headache and temporary dizziness which may occur on the same day as the injection are not signs of general intolerance, but indicate that an effective but possibly already too high dose has been administered.
- Temperature > 38°C (100.4°F)
- Local inflammatory reaction > 5 cm in diameter
Over dosage/excessive response
- Febrile, inflammatory states with body temperatures over 38°C (100.4°F). Solution: interruption of therapy until symptoms resolved. Reduction of strength or dose (part of an ampoule can be injected – discard the residual amount).
- Local inflammatory reactions at the injection site which exceed 5 cm or 2 inch in diameter. Solution: let symptoms resolve. Reduction of strength or dose (subset of an ampoule can be injected – residual amount discard).
- On the day of injection slight signs of lassitude, shivering, general feeling of unwellness, headache and transient dizziness might occur which may last until the following day. Solution: Reduction of strength or dose.
- Under dose escalation decreasing accounts of absolute lymphocytes response, NK cells. Solution: Reduction of strength or dose (monitor for concomitant disorders, respiratory side effects related to drugs)
Note: The mistletoe extract is not a replacement for conventional cancer treatment, it can be considered to be used alongside appropriate conventional cancer treatments
Monitoring your treatment and progress:
Lab work for CBC for absolute lymphocytes/NK CD 16/56 at start and after 7 and 14 injections in the morning about 24 hours after last injection and ongoing as needed.
- 5 hours after injection for 0.5F elevation
- morning-evening difference of 0.9 F
- daily random temp under 100.4 F
Lab work for Liver function tests
What is the Treatment duration?
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 and reaction to the treatment.
When should mistletoe therapy begin?
Mistletoe therapy can begin early in tumor treatment, even immediately after the diagnosis, any time during the treatment, or 14 days before surgical removal of tumor, if this is planned. Since mistletoe therapy can stimulate the immune system and thus promote resistance, the body will be well prepared for the stress that surgery causes to the organism. But a later start is also OK.
Can mistletoe therapy also be performed during chemotherapy and radiotherapy?
Yes, because mistletoe therapy can reduce the adverse effects of chemotherapy, antibody therapy and radiotherapy. However, it is essential to ensure that the injection is given outside the radiation field, otherwise the skin can become highly inflamed.
How long does the treatment take?
Mistletoe therapy is often a long-term therapy but needs to be accompanied by a health professional. How long the therapy lasts in individual cases depends on how the disease develops and how the organism reacts to the therapy.
Does mistletoe therapy influence tumor markers?
The tumor markers change depending on the course of the disease. If the general condition improves or the tumor size reduces as a result of mistletoe therapy, the tumor markers may also decrease again.
Is mistletoe therapy useful if metastases are already present?
Yes, it can improve quality of life and strengthen the immune system. Appetite often returns, weight loss can subside, sleep improves and vital spirits revive.
Can mistletoe therapy relieve pain?
Mistletoe therapy may reduce the need for analgesics. Pain intensity depends on the tumor growth, your general condition and physical strength. As your condition improves and energy returns, your pain also decreases.