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Mistletoe - The most romantic parasitic plant is an anticancer agent 

Health benefits of Mistletoe.

Dr Sampurna Roy MD   


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The mistletoe is an evergreen bush, pale green in colour, with thick and leathery leaves that grow in pairs.

It is known as a parasite which means it lives on other host plants. The most common host of the mistletoe is the apple tree. It also grows on the weeping willow, poplar, lime, ash, maple and rarely on the oak.

The mistletoe flowers bloom in February and March and are small and yellowish. They grow in groups of three, the males on one plant and the females on another.

The white berries, which are attractive to birds, are filled with a sticky pulp, so a bird, after eating one, wipes its beak, on the tree and leaves the seed in cracks in the bark. They then send out sucker roots which grow through the bark.

Mistletoe draws some but not all, of its nourishment from the tree on which it grows and generally dies at the same time as its host.

There are many superstition and legends about the mistletoe. It is known to bring happiness, safety, and good fortune as long as it does not touch the ground. This is probably why it is hung up in homes in Christmas time and is supposed to bring luck to those who kiss under it.

Health benefits of Mistletoe.

Extracts and preparations from the parasitic plant mistletoe (Viscum album ) have been used in the treatment of cancer for decades. Mistletoe is a historic, folk remedy, but the first recorded use in oncology was by the Dutch physician Ita Wegman who used a mistletoe extraction for the treatment of a breast cancer patient following a recommendation by Rudolf Steiner in 1917.

Today, extracts from the plant are used in adjuvant cancer therapy mainly as injections.

The most important active agents are lectins, which have cytotoxic and immunostimulating effects.

Mistletoe extracts have low toxicity. No fatal side effects have been reported.

Breast cancer is among the most frequent types of cancer in women worldwide. Current conventional treatment options are accompanied by side effects. Mistletoe is amongst the important herbal medicines traditionally used as complementary remedies.

The benefit of mistletoe in laryngeal cancer treatment requires further investigation, and might be considered in selected patients, as an adjunct or when other conventional therapies have failed.

Mistletoes of the Loranthaceae and Viscaceae are hemiparasitic plants and their preparations in the form of injectable extracts, infusions, tinctures, fluid extracts or tea bags are widely used in various cultures in almost every continent to treat or manage various health problems including hypertension, diabetes mellitus, inflammatory conditions, irregular menstruations, menopause, epilepsy, arthritis, cancer, etc.

In Germany mistletoe extract is one of the most commonly used complementary therapeutic strategies in the treatment of urological tumours.

Clinical effects of mistletoe products include improvement of quality of life, reduction of side effects from chemotherapy and radiation, and possibly increased survival.

In central Europe, white-berried mistletoe (Viscum album) preparations not only are among the most common types of treatments used in integrative medicine but also have been among of the most commonly prescribed cancer treatments in Germany per se in 2010.

By 2017, mistletoe preparations will have been used in the treatment of cancer patients for 100 years.


Further reading:

Mistletoe in the treatment of cancer.

Preclinical and clinical effects of mistletoe against breast cancer.

Mistletoe (Viscum album) preparations: an optional drug for cancer patients?.

Mistletoe: from basic research to clinical outcomes in cancer and other indications.

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Dr  Sampurna Roy  MD

Consultant Histopathologist (Kolkata - India)







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