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European Mistletoe The Cancer Fighting Herb

European mistletoe (Viscum album L.) also known as simply “mistletoe” is a semi parasitic plant that grows on several types of trees in temperate regions worldwide. This article refers to European mistletoe not American mistletoe, the decorative holiday plant often seen in the United States.

The leafy shoots and berries of mistletoe are used to make extracts that can be taken by mouth and has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat seizures, headaches, and other conditions. In Europe, mistletoe is used mainly as a treatment for cancer and extracts are prescription drugs that are given by injection. In the United States, mistletoe by injection is available only in clinical trials.

Laboratory studies have found that mistletoe kills cancer cells and stimulates the immune system and has been incorporated into the care of cancer patients in Europe for over 80 years. The use of mistletoe to treat cancer has been studied in Europe in more than 30 clinical trials and mistletoe therapy is thought to be the most commonly used complementary cancer treatment in Europe today. Improvements in survival and quality of life have been reported but some doubts have been raised about the findings due mainly to the studies having a small number of participants or not having a control group.

In the United States, because mistletoe has not yet been proven to be a safe and effective cancer treatment, it is advised that it should not be used outside of clinical trials. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) which is part of the National Institutes of Health is sponsoring a clinical trial of mistletoe, given in combination with the drug gemcitabine, for cancer. The study will look at toxicity, safety, and immune system effects of mistletoe extract when combined with this chemotherapy drug.

Raw, unprocessed mistletoe is poisonous. Consuming raw, unprocessed European or American mistletoe can cause seizures, vomiting, a slowing of the heart rate, and even death. American mistletoe is unsafe for medicinal use.

In countries where commercial mistletoe is available by injection, such as Germany, those extracts are considered to be generally safe when used according to product directions and under the supervision of a health care provider. Injected mistletoe extract may cause itching or redness in the area of the injection. Less commonly, side effects may include more extensive skin reactions, low-grade fevers, or flu-like symptoms.

It is important to inform your health care providers about any herb or dietary supplement you are using, including mistletoe.

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