It’s finally the holidays – a time for decorative lights, good food, and kissing under the mistletoe. But, this plant has been making recent news for more than just bringing some extra PDA, or public display of affection, to those who find themselves beneath it. Mistletoe has been studied for its proposed abilities to enhance immune system function, protect neuronal health, act as an anti-inflammatory agent, and manage weight loss through fat metabolism[i][ii]. However, the main focus of research involving mistletoe seems to be aimed at its potential to fight cancer.
Mistletoe extracts are the most common form of mistletoe treatment, as they can be easily injected. The biologically active compounds in these extracts have been found to induce cancer cell killing activity, enhance the efficacy of anti-cancer drugs, and stabilize healthy cell DNA. A few studies have even shown mistletoe extracts to inhibit and decrease tumor growth. In addition to assisting traditional chemotherapy, 50-80% of those who receive mistletoe infusions reported an improved quality of life during their treatment process, including decreased pain, eased anxiety, improved sleep, restored appetite, and relieved fatigue. [iii]
One woman has made headlines for her testament to mistletoe injections. 37-year-old Ivelisse Page was diagnosed in 2008 with stage 4 colon cancer. After a major surgery to remove the tumor, she discovered that the cancer had spread to her liver. With an 8% chance of surviving two more years, she decided to turn to alternative methods, in the form of mistletoe extract. After surgery on her liver, and with this new treatment paired with a healthy lifestyle, Page has been cancer-free since the operation, and after three years of being cancer free, a doctor described this as “unbelievable.”[iv][v][vi]
It should be noted that there are several species of mistletoe plants, and eating your holiday decorations is not advised, as the body seems to have intolerance to ingesting this plant in large amounts.[vii] However, keeping an eye on mistletoe extracts, as well as keeping an eye out for it in December, may be a good idea.
[i] Yoo, J., Yang, J., Kim, Y.S., Cho, W., and Ma, J.Y. (2016). Inhibitory Effects of Loranthus parasiticus on IgE-Mediated Allergic Responses in RBL-2H3 Cells. Mediators of Inflammation, 2016: 8 pages
[ii] Kim, S., Lee, D., Kim, J.K., Kim, J.H., Park, J.H., Lee, J.W., Kwon, J. (2014). Viscothionin isolated from Korean mistletoe improves nonalcoholic fatty liver disease via the activation of adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase. J Agric Food Chem, 62(49): 11876-83.
[iii] Kienle, G. S., Mussler, M., Fuchs, D., & Kiene, H. (2016). Intravenous Mistletoe Treatment in Integrative Cancer Care: A Qualitative Study Exploring the Procedures, Concepts, and Observations of Expert Doctors. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2016, 4628287.
[iv] Sugarman, J. (2014). “Are mistletoe extract injection the next big thing in cancer therapy?” John’s Hopkins Magazine. Retrieved from http://hub.jhu.edu/magazine/2014/spring/mistletoe-therapy-cancer/
[vi] Kilham, C. (2013, December 19). Medicinal attributes of mistletoe. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/12/19/medicinal-attributes-mistletoe.html
[vii] Evens, Z.N., MD and Stellpflug, S.J., MD. (2012). Holiday Plants with Toxic Misconceptions. West J Emerg Med, 13(6): 538-542.