Extracts from a certain species of mistletoe are more effective at treating colon cancer and have fewer negative side effects than chemotherapy, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Adelaide, Australia.
Both case studies and experimental research have shown that mistletoe extracts can stimulate the immune system and directly destroy the cells of many different cancer types. As a result, mistletoe extract is a widely used cancer treatment in Europe. It has not yet been adopted by regulatory agencies or medical professionals in the United States and Australia; however, purportedly due to lack of scientific evidence.
“Mistletoe extract has been considered a viable alternative therapy overseas for many years, but it’s important for us to understand the science behind it,” said Professor Gordon Howarth, who supervised the student who carried out the research.
More effective than pharmaceuticals
Studies have shown that much of the initial uncertainty over the effectiveness of mistletoe extracts stemmed from the fact that each variety of mistletoe has its own unique properties. Therefore, university student Zahra Lotfollahi performed a study to test the effectiveness of three different kinds of mistletoe extract. She exposed both healthy intestinal cells and colon cancer cells to each of the extracts, as well as to chemotherapy.
One of the extracts, derived from the variety Fraxini, which grows only on ash trees, proved not only more effective against the cancer cells than the chemotherapy drugs were, but also less toxic to healthy intestinal cells.
“This is an important result because we know that chemotherapy is effective at killing healthy cells as well as cancer cells,” Lotfollahi said. “This can result in severe side effects for the patient, such as oral mucositis (ulcers in the mouth) and hair loss.”
“Our laboratory studies have shown Fraxini mistletoe extract by itself to be highly effective at reducing the viability of colon cancer cells. At certain concentrations, Fraxini also increased the potency of chemotherapy against the cancer cells.”
The findings are promising for expanding the acceptance and effective use of mistletoe extract, Howarth suggested.
“Although mistletoe grown on the ash tree was the most effective of the three extracts tested, there is a possibility that mistletoe grown on other, as yet untested, trees or plants could be even more effective,” he said. “This is just the first important step in what we hope will lead to further research, and eventually clinical trials, of mistletoe extract in Australia.”
“This might mean that Fraxini is a potential candidate for increased toxicity against cancer, while also reducing potential side effects,” Lotfollahi agreed.
It’s not just in laboratory studies that mistletoe extract performs well. A large clinical trial in Germany found that cancer patients who took a certain mistletoe extract lived 40 percent longer than patients who did not take the extract, while another study found that patients taking mistletoe extract had a significantly higher quality of life. Further clinical studies are also being pursued in Germany and Austria.