Botanical Name: Viscum album
Common Name: European Mistletoe
There’s always doubt in regards to the effectiveness of natural medicine on serious medical conditions. Did you know that over 60% of cancer therapies are derived from natural products? Mistletoe therapy is one of those therapies that is quickly gaining traction because of its effectiveness and recent positive results in research studies.
European mistletoe is a very popular cancer therapy in Europe, and especially in the Germanic-speaking region. Research going back as early as the 1950’s shows that it is effective as a treatment for various tumors. Very recent research has shown that pediatric tumor cells including acute myeloid leukemia, Ewingʼs sarcoma, hepatocellular carcinoma, medulloblastoma, osteosarcoma and especially neuroblastoma cells are highly sensitive to mistletoe as a cancer treatment.
Further, as published in the European Journal of Cancer, a 220 person randomized and controlled research study on mistletoe therapy showed a “significant and clinically relevant prolongation of overall survival” and a decrease of symptoms in local and metastatic pancreatic cancer. The therapy almost doubled the life expectancy of those patients receiving the treatment with no toxic side effects and less symptoms. Based on the authors’ initial analysis, the review board stopped the trial and gave the control group the therapy as well, as they thought it immoral to allow a group not to have the mistletoe treatment.
Considering the high rate of cancer in our modern times, the safety profile, low cost and ease of delivery (small subcutaneous injections like diabetics take their insulin), it makes one wonder if mistletoe should be taken as a preventative treatment. Here is some further information on mistletoe:
Description of Mistletoe Plant/Habitat:
Mistletoe/Viscum is a parasitic shrub that grows on deciduous trees, spruce and pines. The leaves are opposite and yellow-green in color, with the flowers the same color. Berries are white and are poisonous to humans. Viscum album is native to Britain and other areas of Europe and Asia.
Leaves and twigs
Key Active Components:
Acids, amines (acetylcholine, choline, histamine, tyramine), flavonoids (quercitin), lectins, terpenoids, viscotoxins, mucilage, mannitol, inositol, fructose, tannins
- Viscotoxins and lectins are toxic constituents found in mistletoe which are believed to be responsible for its anti-cancer actions. These constituents induce tumor necrosis, increase natural killer cell activity, increase production of interleukins 1 and 6, activate macrophages, induce apoptosis, and protect DNA in normal cells during chemotherapy.
- Hypotensive effect is thought to be mediated by acetylcholine, histamine, GABA, tyramine, and flavones, although the exact mechanism of action is unknown.
- Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, possibly through the vagus nerve, and possibly through the CNS.
Summary of Actions:
Primary actions: hypotensive, immunostimulant, antineoplastic
- Over many centuries, reverence for this herb was translated into the Christian ritual of hanging Mistletoe over doorways at Christmas. With each kiss, a berry was removed until all the berries were gone, at which point it was believed to have lost its powers.
- It was used historically to treat conditions manifesting from a weakened or disordered state of the nervous system such as epilepsy, delirium, and neuralgia.
- Primarily used as a hypotensive agent for mild to moderate hypertension.
- Helpful for HTN associated with dizziness, headaches, and irritability.
- Reduces heart rate and is a positive inotrope. It is especially useful when there is a dilated cardiomyopathy and signs of systolic failure.
- It has a mild initial action, with more results after longer use. It combines well with other herbs for treatment of HTN.
- May destroy certain kinds of cancer cells by blocking the production of specific proteins needed by cancer cells but not by normal cells. May increase the ability of the immune system to attack cancer cells.
- It is thought to help prevent metastatic spread and to promote recovery and extend survival time after surgery.
- It is also used for advanced stage, inoperable solid tumors, especially cancers of the bladder, stomach, intestine, genital organs, and skin. It also retards bone metastases in some cases. Results appear less promising for inoperable cancers of the breast, lungs and esophagus.
- Iscador is a fermented extract of Viscum that is injected subcutaneously or parenterally. It enhances phagocytic and cytotoxic cell-mediated activity in the immune system. For more information regarding the use of iscador check out www.iscador.com.
- Considered a nervine for use in nervous conditions that have cardiac symptoms like tachycardia or palpitations.
- Contraindicated in pregnancy and lactation
- Due to the presence of tyramine in the plant, do not use with MAO inhibitors
- Excessive ingestion of the seeds may cause vomiting, bloody diarrhea, drowsiness and muscle spasm, seizure, coma, miosis—all rare. This may occur via ingestion of the fruits (which contain the seeds), but the toxicity of Viscum is overrated.
- If ingested, call 911, induce vomiting, use activated charcoal.
Preparation and Dosage:
Cold Infusion: 1-2 tsp herb/cup water steeped overnight. Drink on an empty stomach in the morning and evening.
Tincture (1:5): 1-2 mL three times per day
Are you interested in reading about more herbs? Click here to check out more articles!
Menke, K., Schwermer, M., Schramm, A., & Zuzak, T. (2019). Preclinical Evaluation of Antitumoral and Cytotoxic Properties of Viscum album Fraxini Extract on Pediatric Tumor Cells. Planta Medica, 85(14/15), 1150-1159. doi:10.1055/a-1013-0382 https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/a-1013-0382
Nazaruk, J., & Orlikowski, P. (2015). Phytochemical profile and therapeutic potential ofViscum albumL. Natural Product Research, 30(4), 373-385. doi:10.1080/14786419.2015.1022776 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25813519/
Tröger, W., Galun, D., Reif, M., Schumann, A., Stanković, N., & Milićević, M. (2013). Viscum album [L.] extract therapy in patients with locally advanced or metastatic pancreatic cancer: A randomised clinical trial on overall survival. European Journal Of Cancer, 49(18), 3788-3797. doi:10.1016/j.ejca.2013.06.043 https://www.ejcancer.com/article/S0959-8049(13)00550-9/fulltext
Cragg, G., & Newman, D. (2005). Plants as a source of anti-cancer agents. Journal Of Ethnopharmacology, 100(1-2), 72-79. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2005.05.011 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378874105003259?via%3Dihub
Werthmann, P., Kempenich, R., Lang-Avérous, G., & Kienle, G. (2019). Long-term survival of a patient with advanced pancreatic cancer under adjunct treatment with Viscum album extracts: A case report. World Journal Of Gastroenterology, 25(12), 1524-1530. doi:10.3748/wjg.v25.i12.1524 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6441914/