Mistletoe for kissing or for kissing the cancer away?

By Laura Bourdeanu, NP, PhD

Ah, it is that time of the yeara��drinking spiked eggnog then kissing under the mistletoea��

Why kiss under the mistletoe? Perhaps because mistletoe has long been a symbol of love, fertility, vivacity, and hope. It is also considered a symbol of divinity and tenacity. But did you know that mistletoe has been used for more than just finding love?A� In fact it is believed that mistletoe has many healing properties, including treating epilepsy, ulcers, menstrual cramps, poisons, and spleen disorders. It is of no surprise that it has been investigated as a potential cure for cancer.

Mistletoe happens to be one of the most popular treatments for integrative cancer care, especially in Europe (Germany in particular) where it is prescribed in combination with traditional cancer treatment. Mistletoe is a plant that grows predominantly in Europe. In nature, mistletoe is found growing on different tree species, such as pine, oak, apple, etc. but as a hemiparasite (partially a parasite, as it feeds off other trees). Yes, you are looking for love under a parasite! But who cares? As long as you get a kissa��.or kiss cancer goodbyea��.

Extract used in cancer

Mistletoe is not used in its original form, like the one you hang over the doorway during the holiday season, but rather there are several extracts that are produced from it.A� Among the preparations that have been researched in the cancer field are included:

  • Helixor
  • Lektinol
  • Iscucin
  • Iscador
  • Abnobaviscum

The majority of these extracts originate from Europe, where it is frequently prescribed alongside chemotherapy. There are several available brands on the market, such as Iscador (Iscar), Eurixor, Helixor, Isorel (Vysorel), Iscucin, Lektinol (Plenosol) and Abnoba-viscum.

How it works

Scientists believe that mistletoe extract can kill cancer in two ways: (1) it kills the tumor directly and (2) it boosts your immune system to kill the cancer cells. Some of the earliest studies evaluating the use of mistletoe in the cancer setting indicated that mistletoes can improve symptoms related to cancer, reduce treatment side effects and prolong survival. However, newer studies were not as conclusive. There are a large number of research studies that have tested how effective the mistletoe extract is when it comes to different types of cancers. The results of these studies are mixed, with some showing benefit while others showing no effect on the cancer. One major research report analyzing the effects of mistletoes in patients with colon, rectal, stomach, non-metastasized breast tumors, small cell and non-small cell lung cancer indicated that patients who had taken the mistletoe in addition to conventional treatment survived 40 percent longer than those that did not.

Why the results so different? Well, the different results found in these studies may stem from other variables rather than the effectiveness of the extract itself, such as:

  • How much dose of the mistletoe extract is being given to the patient
  • The species of the host tree, that the particular shrub from which the extract was obtained, was growing on
  • How the extract is prepared before administration
  • How the extract was administered

If you are looking for the most consistent results achieved through the use of mistletoe extract, then you will find that when a cancer patient is administered mistletoe extract his/her ability to tolerate cancer therapies increases.

Room for Improvement

One sure way to guarantee improvement in cancer patients using the mistletoe extract is to customize the treatment to each individual, based on the particulars of their case, as well as, ensure a comprehensive nature of the cure. Personalized treatment should include not only the conventional one but also alternative and complementary medicine. The following list mentions just a few of the factors that can be used to provide an individualized treatment. They should be selected based on the patients themselves:

  • Dosage
  • The method of preparation of the extract
  • The species of the host tree supporting the mistletoe bush
  • Site of extract injection
  • How frequently the doses would be administered
  • Whether there should be additional supplementation

How it is administered

Mistletoe is typically given by injections, but on occasions it can be injected directly into the tumor or be taken by mouth. The treatment can last several months to years, with adjustment of the treatment dose depending on the patienta��s general condition and tolerance to it.

To take or not to takea��

In the US there is no consensus regarding the use of mistletoe in patients with cancer. There are many reasons for this. The designs of the studies assessing the benefits of mistletoe in cancer treatment have been very weak, which makes them more likely to produce positive results that may not be true. In addition, there was variability in extracts and dose of the mistletoe used in each study that makes it difficult to interpret the findings.

So the sceptics do not believe there is proof of efficacy based on the current research. The proponents of mistletoe treatment insist we need more and better studies to prove that it works. One thing we know thus far is that patients using mistletoe during chemotherapy experienced less chemotherapy dose reductions, side effects, and hospitalizations.

So for now, there is no harm in using the mistletoe to find love, although there are no concrete studies to support kissing under the mistletoe will result in a love connection. Using it to cure cancer? The answer is not as concrete, and that may be why it is not currently FDA approved in the US. What is for certain is that an integrated program of treatments can increase your odds of survival. Whether mistletoe should be part of your program needs to be discussed with your individual treating doctor, as the treatment is not only expensive but it comes with side effects