Mistletoe: A Natural Cancer Treatment

Mistletoe (Viscum album) extract is a natural, safe and effective adjunct to conventional treatment for many types of cancer. Treatment with mistletoe is not a cure for cancer but helps to improve quality of life and increase survival.

History Of Mistletoe

Mistletoe (Latin name: Viscum album) is a plant which grows parasitically on pine, oak, elm and apple trees, among many others. There are hundreds of species of mistletoe growing throughout the world. European mistletoe was first described at length for medicinal use 2000 years ago. Modern research on mistletoe for the treatment of cancer began in Germany in the 1950s and has exploded over the past few decades.

Does Mistletoe Cure Cancer?

In short, mistletoe is not a cure for cancer although it does have an inhibitory effect on cancer cells and a stimulating effect on the immune system of a person with cancer. These effects can increase life-span and improve quality of life in cancer patients. This treatment should not be used in lieu of conventional cancer treatments but is an excellent natural adjunct to conventional treatment.

Effect On Survival

The vast majority of studies performed on mistletoe in the treatment of cancer have found that it increases survival time in cancer patients. This is a big deal, for an herbal medicine with very little side effects to have such a profound effect. Patients with pancreatic cancer1,2, ovarian cancer3,4, cervical cancer5, breast cancer6, liver cancer7, colon cancer8, glioma9 and melanoma10 have all shown an increased survival when studied with mistletoe, compared to similar cancer patients not being treated with mistletoe.

Mistletoe And Quality Of Life

Mistletoe extract has also been studied extensively for its effect on quality of life in patients with cancer. The research shows that mistletoe improves many aspects of quality of life in patients with cancer including fatigue, sleep, exhaustion, nausea, vomiting, appetite, emotional well-being, depression, anxiety, concentration, ability to work, pain, diarrhea and adverse effects to conventional treatments11.

Mistletoe on tree - Cancer

How Does It Work?

Mistletoe acts in several ways to affect cancer cells including inhibition of protein synthesis12,13, inhibition of the formation of new blood vessels14 (required for cancer spread) and induction of cancer cell apoptosis15,16 (cell death).

Mistletoe improves and refines the immune’s system function towards cancer including increasing release of immune-system enhancing cytokines such as IL-1, IL-6 and TNF alpha15,17,18,19, increasing white blood cell count and activity15,17,20,21,22,23,24, and protection of white blood cell DNA against the dangerous effects of chemotherapy13,15,17,25.

Active Components

Mistletoe contains two major compounds which have regulatory effects on cancer cells and the immune system. Mistletoe lectins are cytotoxic (kill cancer cells) and are also powerful immune-stimulating compounds26,27. Viscotoxins, another constituent of the mistletoe plant, are also cytotoxic28,29 and have an immune stimulating effect 30.

How Is Mistletoe Used?

Mistletoe is given by subcutaneous injection, just under the skin, typically nearby the site of a known cancerous growth. Injections of the mistletoe extract are minimally painful and are given every other day. Injecting mistletoe, rather than taking it orally allows it to act more directly on the immune system without being limited by digestive absorption or the liver’s “first pass effect”. Injecting mistletoe allows for a targeted treatment since it can be injected near the site of a known tumor or cancerous lesion.

Mistletoe iscador cancer

Safety Of Mistletoe

Mistletoe in the treatment of cancer is very safe when proper technique and protocol are followed. The most common adverse effects of this herbal treatment are redness or discomfort in the area surrounding the injection site, chills, fever and headaches. These reactions are not dangerous and are typically due to the immune response which is elicited by this natural treatment.

Mistletoe has no known major herb-drug interactions31,32 but allergic reactions to this herb have been reported in isolated cases33,34. People with auto-immune conditions should avoid this treatment due to its immune stimulating effect. Safety of mistletoe has not been assessed during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Forms Of Mistletoe

In Canada injectable mistletoe extract is available under the product names Iscador and Helixor. In my practice I typically use Iscador as it has a strong research supporting its use. Helixor is another excellent choice, depending on the individual patient and their state of health.

Mistletoe Therapy in Halifax

Mistletoe injections in the treatment of cancer are a viable adjunctive natural treatment option to conventional chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or surgical treatment. If you are in the Halifax area and are interested in trying this treatment please contact MacLeod Naturopathic to book an initial consultation with Dr. MacLeod.


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