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What is Mistletoe Used for Today?
In the 20th century, mistletoe became popular in Germany through the advocacy of a mystic and philosopher named Rudolf Steiner. The school of medicine he founded, anthroposophical medicine, recommended injectible forms of mistletoe as a treatment for cancer. The initial basis for this use was Steiner’s “clairvoyant” insight. Scientific tests were subsequently conducted with somewhat positive results, but current evidence is far from definitive.
Mistletoe extracts show anticancer effects in the test tube. 1 2 3 4 However, test-tube studies cannot show a treatment effective; only controlled clinical trials can do that. A 2003 review found 10 human trials of injected mistletoe for cancer that met at least minimal scientific standards. 5 Unfortunately, even these studies generally suffered from significant weaknesses in design. The review authors noted that the better-designed studies failed to find evidence of benefit, in terms of lengthened remission, improved quality of life, or chance of survival. Subsequent human trials have also failed to reach adequate levels of scientific rigor or clinical relevance and have, therefore, failed to clarify matters. 6 Another review of 21 clinical trials found no convincing evidence that mistletoe was effective for cancer survival, tumor response, quality of life, psychological distress, or any other favorable outcomes. 7 However, two of the better designed studies did suggest some benefit for breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. A more recent review of 49 22 studies found the addition of mistletoe to standard cancer treatment was associated with improved survival in cancer patients. An analysis restricted to randomized controlled trials, however, showed less of an overall effect. 8 Oral uses of mistletoe have not undergone significant study. Very weak evidence, too weak to rely upon at all, hints that constituents of mistletoe might potentially offer benefit in diabetes 9 10 11 and colds and flus. 12 It is commonly stated that oral mistletoe products reduce blood pressure, but there is no scientific evidence to support this belief.
- Urech K, Scher JM, Hostanska K, et al. Apoptosis inducing activity of viscin, a lipophilic extract from Viscum album L. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2005;57:101-9.
- Harmsma M, Gromme M, Ummelen M, et al. Differential effects of Viscum album extract IscadorQu on cell cycle progression and apoptosis in cancer cells. Int J Oncol. 2004;25:1521-1529.
- Duong Van Huyen JP, Delignat S, Kazatchkine MD, et al. Comparative study of the sensitivity of lymphoblastoid and transformed monocytic cell lines to the cytotoxic effects of Viscum album extracts of different origin. Chemotherapy. 2003;49:298-302.
- Yoon TJ, Yoo YC, Kang TB, Song SK, Lee KB, Her E, Song KS, Kim JB. Antitumor activity of the Korean mistletoe lectin is attributed to activation of macrophages and NK cells. Arch Pharm Res. 26(10):861-7.
- Ernst E, Schmidt K, Steuer-Vogt MK. Mistletoe for cancer? A systematic review of randomised clinical trials. Int J Cancer. 107(2):262-7.
- Bock PR, Friedel WE, Hanisch J, Karasmann M, Schneider B. [Efficacy and safety of long-term complementary treatment with standardized European mistletoe extract (Viscum album L.) in addition to the conventional adjuvant oncologic therapy in patients with primary non-metastasized mammary carcinoma. Results of a multi-center, comparative, epidemiological cohort study in Germany and Switzerland] Arzneimittelforschung. 54(8):456-66.
- Horneber MA, Bueschel G, Huber R, Linde K, Rostock M. Mistletoe therapy in oncology. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2008;(2): CD003297.
- Ostermann T, Raak C, Büssing A. Survival of cancer patients treated with mistletoe extract (Iscador): a systematic literature review. BMC Cancer. 9():451.
- Orhan DD, Aslan M, Sendogdu N, et al. Evaluation of the hypoglycemic effect and antioxidant activity of three Viscum album subspecies (European mistletoe) in streptozotocin-diabetic rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005;98:95-102.
- Onal S, Timur S, Okutucu B, Zihnioğlu F. Inhibition of alpha-glucosidase by aqueous extracts of some potent antidiabetic medicinal herbs. Prep Biochem Biotechnol. 35(1):29-36.
- Gray AM, Flatt PR. Insulin-secreting activity of the traditional antidiabetic plant Viscum album (mistletoe). JEndocrinol. 1999;160:409-414.
- Huber R, Klein R, Lüdtke R, Werner M. [Frequency of the common cold in healthy subjects during exposure to a lectin-rich and a lectin-poor mistletoe preparation in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study] Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd. 8(6):354-8.